Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Election of 1860 and Outbreak of the Civil War

A week ago, the United States had a very highly contentious election, and as a result of the election protests and riots have broken out in numerous places. In 1860, the United States endured another highly contentious election, as well as the outbreak of the Civil War.

The Election of 1860 was the election when Abraham Lincoln became President...but what led to the election being so contentious? Well, that would be the issue of, you guessed it, slavery.

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, which allowed for states to have popular sovereignty, basically eliminating the Missouri Compromise. As a result, there was a lot of violence in Kansas, so much so that some people would argue that the Civil War began in 1857. Another result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was the formation of the Republican party, which consisted largely of former Free Soilers, Northern abolitionists, Whigs, and some No-Nothings. The Republicans were sectional, meaning their supporters were almost exclusively from free states in the North and West.

With this, the stage was set for the Election of 1860. The Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, a lawyer and former Representative from Illinois; the Democrats had some issues and nominated both Stephen Douglass (who appealed to Northern Democrats) and John Breckinridge (who appealed to Southern Democrats). Lincoln himself hated slavery, but he had stated numerous times throughout his campaign that he would leave it alone in states where it existed. Lincoln managed to win the most Electoral College votes, and thus the presidency, without any votes from the South.

Despite the promise to leave the institution of slavery alone, seven states had seceded and formed the Confederate States of America shortly after Lincoln was elected.

The Southern states began to secede from the Union on December 20, 1860 and extended through June 1861 when eleven total states severed ties with the Union. each of the states that seceded wrote down their reasons for doing so in a declaration of causes (linked to here: Declaration of Causes), and each mention the issue of slavery above all others. The Union was divided approximately on geographic lines, with the 21 northern and border states retaining the name United States and the seceding states naming themselves the Confederate States of America. The border slaves states of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri remained with the Union but sent volunteers to fight for the Confederacy. Fifty counties of western Virginia remained loyal to the Union/United States and in 1863 would be granted statehood and become the state of West Virginia.

This divide was geographical as the economies of both the North and the South changed. In the North, the Market Revolution changed industry. With the mechanization of various industries such as the meat packing industry and the clothing manufacturing industry, immigrants began to flood to flock to the North, and the Northern states realized that they no longer needed slavery because they could exploit the immigrants for cheap labor. Due to the Market Revolution's advances in agriculture, a plantation "cotton culture" worked by slave labor became centralized in the South. As the Transcendental Movement spread in the North and abolition rhetoric increased, the South saw their way of life being threatened and began making threats to secede as early as 1819.

In April 1861, the first shots of the Civil war rang out at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.

Fort Sumter was still under construction when South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. Despite Charleston being a major sea port, only two companies of federal troops guarded the harbor at the time. Those federal troops were commanded by Major Robert Anderson and were stationed at another nearby fort, but Anderson moved his troops to Fort Sumter. South Carolina militiamen would go on to seize the city's other forts.

On January 9, 1861, a ship called the Star of the West arrived in Charleston with over 200 US troops and supplies intended for Fort Sumter. South Carolina militia fired upon the ship as it reached Charleston Harbor, forcing it to turn back without being able to resupply the fort. Anderson refused to surrender the fort, and by March over 3,000 South Carolina troops were besieging his garrison. Other US military garrisons had been seized as well, and Fort Sumter was seen by many as one of the few remaining hurdles they needed to be overcome before achieving sovereignty.

Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861, and as a result the situation in the South escalated. Major Anderson and his men were running out of supplies, so Lincoln announced he would be sending three unarmed ships to relieve Fort Sumter. South Carolina viewed the action as an act of aggression and on April 11, 1861 PGT Beauregard, the South Carolina militia commander, demanded that Anderson (his former teacher at West Point) surrender, but Anderson again refused. Beauregard opened fire on Fort Sumter around 4:30am on April 12th; US Captain Abner Doubleday ordered the first shots in defense of the fort. Around 2pm on April 13th, Anderson was forced to surrender Fort Sumter.

In the days following the battle, Lincoln issued a call for Union volunteers to quash the rebellion while others sent volunteers to fight for the Confederacy.

The Battle of Fort Sumter played a major role in triggering the Civil War, and it showed just how much each side was willing to fight for what it believed in

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Gathering Storm

Tensions had been building between abolitionists and pro-slavery institutionalists for much of the 1800s, and it was no surprise that much of this tension was witnessed via acts of our government and not just I the street.

The government plays a huge role in any era, and the 1800s was no exception. Through a series of compromises, rules, crises, and secret deals meant to stifle both sides, tensions increased.

In the 1800s, many people argued that American society was corrupt from top to bottom and needed a complete overhaul, citing slavery and its pervasiveness in all aspects of life (political, economic, and social) as the main reason America was so corrupt. However, there were numerous others who believed that American society was fundamentally sound, and saw slavery as a political problem that needed to be solved.

Beginning in the 1820s, politicians began to try their hand at solving the issue of slavery as a political problem.

In 1820-1821, Congress came up with the Missouri Compromise. In the 1800s, a huge amount of land was purchased by the US government in an event that has come to be known as the Louisiana Purchase. Naturally, Americans wanted to move out to the new territory and begin a new life for themselves...and many wanted to bring their slaves. The purpose of the Missouri Compromise was to address the extension of slavery permanently. There were many people at this time who believed in popular sovereignty, that people should choose whether or not they wanted to enter as a slave state, but that could prove dangerous because the free-slave state balance could be thrown off, skewing the representation in Congress in favor of one of the two sides. The Missouri Compromise resulted in Missouri entering the Union as a slave state and the country being divided in two; all Louisiana Purchase lands north of the 36'30' line would be free states (except for Missouri) and lands south of that line will be slave states.

The US government also decided that they needed to protect American goods and products, so a series of tariffs were levied on the states; these were meant to boost the sales of US products and protect Northern manufacturers. The South exported their cotton to Britain, and received cheap goods in return. In 1816, the government placed a 20-25% tax on all foreign goods; in 1824 that tax rose to 35%; and in 1828 the tax was increased to nearly 50%. The South was furious; no state was selling enough cotton to pay for the goods they needed, and South Carolina deemed the tariff unconstitutional because they believed that the federal government could not pass laws that interfered with state commerce. This Nullification Crisis led to the idea that states' rights superseded the federal law and demonstrated that disputes between various regions of the nation could cause various problems. The Nullification Crisis opened the door to rebellion--if states believed that the federal government's laws did not supersede their own, that meant it would be easier for tensions to rise and for war to eventually break out.

Shortly after the Nullification Crisis, Congress decided to incite the gag rule, tabling all petitions that had to deal with slavery, allowing Congress to effectively ignore them. The gag rule showed that the US was out of step with other countries. By 1836, when the gag rule was put in place, Europe and Britain had already banned slavery. Connected to the gage rule was a series of secret deals, where opposing politicians agreed to keep slavery out of political conversations.

War with Mexico

In the 1840s, the highly divided United States saw itself in a war with Mexico. The Mexican-American War was fought from 1846 to 1848 and was the first war the US armed forces fought on mostly foreign soil.

The Mexican-American War was fought between a militarily weak Mexico against an expansionist United States, led by President James K. Polk who believed that the US had a "manifest destiny" to spread across the North American continent.

Texas gained its independence from Mexico in 1836 but it had not been annexed into the US because they were weary of adding another slave state. Mexico threatened that if Texas was annexed, it would be cause for war. It wasn't until 1844 when James K. Polk had become President, that the US went ahead with the annexation of Texas. Polk also had his eye on the rest of Mexico's territory in North America, and offered to purchase it but was turned down. So, he did what anyone else would do to get what he wanted--he instigated a fight by moving soldiers into a disputed land zone between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River.

On April 25, 1846, Mexican cavalry attacked American soldiers in the disputed zone, killing about a dozen men, and laid siege to an American fort along the Rio Grande.

After months of fighting and losing battles, Mexico turned once again to General Santa Anna, who had been living in exile in Cuba. Santa Anna contacted Polk, saying that if he was allowed to return to Mexico that he would end the war on terms that were favorable to the US. However, Santa Anna double-crossed Polk by taking control of the Mexican army once again and leading it into battle. At the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847, Santa Anna's army suffered heavy casualties and was forced to withdraw. Meanwhile, US troops landed in Veracruz and captured the city.

On February 2, 1848 the Mexican-American War officially came to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which would establish the Rio Grande, not the Nueces River, as the US-Mexican border. Mexico also recognized the annexation of Texas and agreed to sell the rest of its North American territory to the US for $15 million.

At the end of the war, Mexico lost about one-third of its territory, and the territory became the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.

With the addition of new territory after the Mexican-American War came a lot of issues that needed to be solved in a way to prevent everyone from getting upset (spoiler alert: what's about to happen doesn't necessarily work all that well).

Compromise of 1850

The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five separate bills passed by Congress with the intent to diffuse a four-year confrontation between slave and free states over territory that was acquired during the Mexican-American War.

The Compromise of 1850 consisted of laws that: admitted California as a free state, created Utah and New Mexico territories and allowed them to have popular sovereignty, settled a border dispute between Texas and New Mexico (in Texas's favor), ended the slave trade in Washington, DC., and instilled a new Fugitive Slave Law making it easier for southerners to recover runaway slaves.

The Compromise of 1850 was introduced by Henry Clay, a staunch pro-slavery institutionalist. Clay worked with Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Webster, although from Massachusetts, backed Clay and antagonized his former abolitionist supporters. Senator Stephen Douglass split the Compromise into five separate bills so Congressmen could vote or abstain on each according to their personal views; all of the individual bills passed and President Millard Fillmore (who was a southern sympathizer and pro-Compromise despite being from New York) signed the bills into law.

The Compromise of 1850 worked as it was intended. It was more or less a patchwork to stave off the impending war, but it did allow both sides to get what they wanted, at least for a time.

These actions, though meant to quell the increasing tensions surrounding slavery, led to the tensions continuing to rise between the abolitionists and the pro-slavery institutionalists, with no end is sight.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Anti-Slavery Movement

So, before I jump into the subject I'll be writing about in this post, I just wanted to say that my posts will be coming more frequently now that my social studies lessons are at the same place as this blog is chronologically, so if you're a fan of this blog and you haven't done so already, please subscribe so you can receive notifications for when I post new content!

The topic I'll be writing about today is the anti-slavery movements of the 1830s and 1840s. In previous posts I wrote about the reform movements that were going on during this era and I had written about the differences and similarities between the North and South, so I'm going to begin this post with a recap of the similarities and differences.

During the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson penned the famous line "all men are created equal". At a time when the Colonies were trying to unite to form what would become the United States and to get out from under the thumb of King George III, what was truly made evident was how that line was not true; in the Colonies, some people were more equal than others. It's no secret that 13 of the first 16 US Presidents owned slaves; and as an agrarian society in the early days, our country has a long history with slavery.

The first Africans came over to the Colonies as indentured servants. As indentured servants, they would serve for an agreed upon amount of time (usually between seven to ten years) and would then become free; as a reward for their servitude, they were given a parcel of land, new clothe, tools, and a musket. However, once it was discovered that tobacco could be cultivated in the Carolinas and Virginia, there was too much work to be done and not enough bodies to do it, so the colonists turned towards slavery. The English/American colonists first tried to enslave the Native Americans, much like their Spanish counterparts had done, but that soon proved ineffective so the colonists turned toward the African slave trade. With African slavery, the colonists who could afford to buy slaves kept them for life, because there was no limit placed on how long they had to serve before they could be freed. For many of the African slavery "freedom" would be a word they heard often but one they would not get to experience firsthand.

Many people are taught that slavery existed only in the South, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Slavery existed everywhere in the US at the time the Constitution was ratified, with the exemption of Massachusetts. For example: there were as many slave in New York as there were in Georgia; and there were as many slaves in New Jersey as there were in Delaware and Tennessee combined.

Still, the North and South were very different, so it makes sense that slavery would be different in those locations as well.

The North:
  • Even though some Northern states had more slaves that Southern slaves, there were "only" about 40,000 slaves in the North as opposed to 700,000 slaves in the South at the time the Constitution was ratified.
  • Most slaves in the North were domestic servants, not laborers necessary to keep mills going or cultivate fields like in the South. Some of the families in New York who owned slaves include: the Ten Broecks, the Schuylers (yes, Phillip Schuyler, the father of the famed Schuyler sisters, owned slaves), and the Van Rensselaers.
  • Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1780 (but the law that was passed wouldn't take effect until at least 1788) and other states such as New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New Jersey soon followed. Pennsylvania provided for gradual emancipation in 1780; and New York would declare that all children born to slave after July 4, 1799 would be freed after serving for a time as apprentices, and would go on to completely abolish slavery in 1827.
The South:
  • With the introduction of the cotton gin in 1793, more slaves were needed in the South in order to make the cultivation of the plant more profitable (planting more, harvesting more, shipping more to other pats of the world and within the US, etc.), so there was an increase in the number of slaves that were being imported to America; the domestic slave trade was booming as well as many plantation owners needed more slaves.
  • Although at the time of the Constitution's ratification the slave population was roughly 700,000, and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade would come to an end in 1807, slavery in the South increased greatly due to forced natural reproduction.
  • Slaves were not considered citizens
  • Slaves could not vote
  • Slaves could not hold public office
  • Slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person on the census
  • Slaves were considered property
  • Slaves could be hired out and work for wages
  • Slaves could save up their wages to buy their own freedom and the freedom of their family members

The Anti-Slavery Movement's Start

The anti-slavery movement had started long before the North-South tensions began to build, but for all intents and purposes, we're going to focus on the 1830s and 1840s.

Efforts to weaken or abolish slavery picked up speed with each passing year after 1800; as social reforms began to sweep the country as early as the 1790s, it makes sense that slavery would be a hot-button social reform issue as well.

The first organized emancipation movement began in 1817with the formation of the American Colonization Society. The American Colonization Society proposed to return freed slaves to Africa. Supporters of the Society included: James Madison, James Monroe, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster. Many who supported the Society did so because they opposed slavery; however, others saw the Society as a way to bolster slavery by doing away with troublesome freed blacks. it's no surprise that most freed blacks denounced the American Colonization Society from the start. By 1817, most of the black population had been in the US for generations, and had not set foot in Africa; they didn't see the Society as a means to return them to their homeland, because the US was their homeland. However, those who wanted to bring an end to slavery saw shipping off the black population to another continent as the only means to end slavery. Despite the outcry by many, the American Colonization Society acquired a parcel of land in West Africa from local chieftans and in 1822 the first freed blacks were transported there; 25 years later, that parcel of land became the Free and Independent Republic of Liberia. Form an outside perspective, it seems as though the American Colonization Society was at least somewhat successful...but only 15,000 or so freed blacks had migrated to Africa between 1822 and 1860, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of slaves births there were each year in the US at that time.

Things began to change drastically in the 1830s and 1840s as the anti-slavery movement developed an aggressive new strategy--gradual emancipation. This gradual emancipation wasn't quite the same thing as what some states like Pennsylvania were doing at the time; this gradual emancipation began with an attempt to ban slavery in the western territories and encouraging owners to free their slaves via manumission. Eventually, the anti-slavery movement would move towards demanding immediate abolition.

A leader of the immediate abolition movement was Bostonian newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison. In 1831, Garrison launched his newspaper, The Liberator, an antislavery newspaper. Garrison called for immediate abolition in his newspaper, growing impatient with gradual emancipation and manumission. Garrison outrage non-slave owners and slave owners alike with his militant language, but often assured everyone that although he used militant language he was not trying to incite a war because an insurrection in the South would lead to trouble in the nation as a whole; he also stated that if the slaves rose up, they would be justified in their actions of trying to break out of their binds of oppression.

Garrison inspired others, and he and those people would go on to form the American Antislavery Society. This society was made up of Quakers, Christian evangelicals, and black activists. This Society created national networks of newspapers, offices, chapters, and activists; every chapter was affiliated with a local church, as the Society did have a religious base. By 1840 over 140,000 people belonged to the American Antislavery Society. This society was fairly unique for its era because not only were its members saying that slavery was wrong in the eyes of God, the members were also saying that blacks and whites were equal and should be treated as such, essentially declaring they wanted to put an end to race-based bondage.

In the 1840, the abolition movement caught on like wildfire, with more and more people entering the fight to end slavery. As more discussions were being had, a schism began to form in the movement. Garrison and many of his followers, called Garrisonians, believed that American society was corrupt from the top to the bottom and needed an overhaul. Garrisonians embraced many reform movements of the day: abolition, championing equal rights for African-Americans, temperance, pacifism, women's rights, education reform, and prison reform. Garrison and his followers broke away from the Christian church because of their differences in ideals. Other reformers believed American society was fundamentally sound but needed to be rid of slavery. This second group did not believe in women's rights, and refused to allow women to speak and vote at their meetings. This second group would break away from the first and form the American and Foreign Antislavery Society.

Despite the abolition movement being a movement to end slavery, many white abolitionists balked at granting full recognition to black abolitionists. Many white abolitionists wanted free blacks to take a backseat in the movement, to form their own groups and do their own thing, to be seen and not heard. Garrison and his followers, especially former slave such as Frederick Douglass, because he (rightfully) believed that those former slave were the best qualified to speak out against slavery and for abolition rather than someone who never experienced slavery.

Reactions to Abolitionism

Racism was a major national problem in the 1800s, and continues to remain so today. Even in the North, abolitionists were met with hostile white crowds who disliked blacks, saw abolition as being bad for business, rationalized that freed blacks would be taking jobs seen as belonging to whites, and a host of other reasons.

In the 1830s, abolitionism took a political turn with the focus being placed on Congress. One strategy that was used was to send Congress hundreds of petitions calling for the abolition of slavery in Washington, DC. How did Congress react to this? From 1836 to 1844, Congress instituted a "gag rule", which placed all abolition petitions automatically on the table, giving Congress the ability to ignore them. The "gag rule" also banned the subjects of slavery and abolition from being discussed while Congress was in session.

The Defense of Slavery

While abolitionists were protesting slavery by holding speeches, writing newspapers, and helping slaves escape from bondage, pro-slavery believers launched their own movement to defend the "peculiar institution". During the 1830s and after, pro-slavery leaders worked to rationalize the institution of slavery via Christianity. While abolitionists were doing the same thing, pro-slavery leader were ardent in their quest to share this information, sharing biblical passages that backed up their side.

Once the religious arguments began to wane, pro-slavery leaders turned to "racial differences"--stating that white racial supremacy would come to an end, stating that blacks couldn't work under conditions of freedom because they were naturally lazy, stating that blacks were better off as slaves and prospering in the US rather than if their ancestors had stayed in Africa where they would be starving and suffering ("We saved them! They should be grateful!"), and stating that freed blacks were a threat to white workers because it would cause more hiring/workplace competition. Now, some of these arguments are still used today; I've heard so many times that blacks were lazy, that Hispanics were going to take jobs away from whites, and everyone should be grateful that they're in this great country and stop complaining about how bad they have it. This just goes to show that, sadly, we have a long way to go when it comes to racial equality in this country. In the 1800s and beyond, racial minorities had further to go.

The debate over slavery would drive an ever-increasing wedge between North and South. As the debate continued, it was becoming evident that an unavoidable separation between North and South would occur, and the early years of the 1860s would see this debate turn into the bloodiest conflict on American soil...the Civil War.

However, we're not quite there yet. Next time on the blog I'll be writing about the attempts to solve slavery as a political issue, which means we'll be discussing the actions of Congress in the 1800s.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

How the West Was Won: Westward Expansion

With a government and economic system firmly established, the Natives placed on reservations (or murdered), and cheap land in the Mid-West for sale, the way was prepped for migration to the territories.

The people who would come to settle in the Mid-West were: young New Englanders (from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island), farmers from New York and Pennsylvania, Southerners of Scotch-Irish descent, various Native peoples (either by force or by choice), and free blacks. The Mid-West was like a salad--each group that settled the land was distinct and had an important role in how the Mid-West was framed. French-Canadian boatmen and trappers, Spanish traders from the Southwest, and Virginia backcountry planters and their droves of slaves mingled with German, Scotch-Irish, and English farmers.

Four main routes led into the territories west of the Appalachians: one route was called the Genesee Route and it went from Albany to Buffalo, NY where travelers could then easily cross over into Ohio and beyond; a second route ran through Pittsburgh, PA and ran into Ohio and beyond; a third route wound its way through the mountains starting at Alexandria, PA and made its way into Kentucky and then into Missouri; and the final route from the East to the West passed through the Cumberland Gap and ran through Kentucky. Settlers heading into the West traveled using covered wagons and teams of horses, which was the easiest method for moving goods and people across an expanse of land at the time. People could choose to sleep in the covered wagons and camp out along the trail, or they could rent a room in one of the numerous inns that dotted the way along whichever route they chose to traverse.

In 1792, Kentucky and Vermont entered the Union and became states. To assert their independence, Kentucky wrote into its state constitution that all free white males could vote regardless of whether or not they owned land. Tennessee would follow along the same steps towards democracy once it was admitted into the Union. Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois soon followed as they also gained statehood.

The entrance of these states would continue to open up the West for settlement, especially by young men who wanted to forge their own lives and destinies.

Slowly over time, the Louisiana Territory would be opened up to settlers and as their populations grew, each territory would be admitted into the Union. From the Louisiana Territory purchased in 1803, 15 new states were created: Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota, New Mexico, northern Texas, Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado.

Due to the people who came to inhabit the region, the West developed its own personality. One unnamed person from the era of westward expansion described the West as having "A spirit of adventurous enterprise, a willingness to go through hardship to accomplish an object...independence of thought and action." The men of the West were truly free and independent, and it was this attitude which would lead to the Texas Revolution and the annexation of Texas.

In the 1830s, Texas belonged to Mexico, however, Mexico allowed American settlers to buy land, cultivate it, and raise cattle. The Americans had started to bring slaves over to Texas, and the centralist government in Mexico decided to put limits on what the Texans could and could not do...which led to Mexico's leader Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna banned slavery in the Republic of Texas. hostilities erupted in October 1835 and the Texas Revolution was in full swing.

President/General Santa Anna vowed to retake Texas himself, and in mid-February 1836 he led his Army of Operations to San Antonio where his troops would meet with a garrison of Americans at the Battle of the Alamo.

The Battle of the Alamo was a pivotal battle in the Texas Revolution. Several months prior to the February 1836 battle, Texans had driven all Mexican troops out of Mexican Texas. About 100 Texans were garrisoned at the Alamo, and they were met with reinforcements led by Colonel William Travis and James (Jim) Bowie.

On February 23, approximately 1,500 Mexican soldiers, led by General Santa Anna, marched into San Antonio with the goal of retaking Texas. For the next ten days, 185 men at the Alamo defended their garrison from Santa Anna's forces. Through enduring multiple  aid, and more men, bringing the total to 260 men at the Alamo.

On March 6, the Mexican Army advanced on the Alamo. The Texans could no longer hold their garrison and were overtaken. Most accounts list between 182-257 of the 260 men at the Alamo had been killed and 600 Mexicans had been killed or wounded.

Twelve years later, Texas would be annexed to the United States and would become the 28th state.

The west was won by land expansion, and its personality was forged by those who came to inhabit its lands, both by choice and by force. I already briefly wrote about the Cherokee Removal in a previous blog post, but I believe the atrocities it caused warrant mentioning again, and going more in depth with the act of the forced removal itself.

In April 1830, President Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal Act. For those who had known President Jackson, this news came to no surprise. In 1814 as a US military colonel he commanded his forces to go to war with the Creek nation; in their defeat, the Creeks lost 22 million acres of land in Georgia and Alabama. In 1818, Jackson's troops invaded Spanish Florida and fought the Seminoles to punish them for harboring fugitive slaves. From 1814 to 1824, Jackson negotiated nine out of eleven treaties with Natives, which created a period of voluntary migration (although many of those Natives did not migrate). However, in 1830, Jackson passed the Indian Removal Act which gave the president power to negotiate removal treaties with Native tribes. Jackson's views of the Natives were paternalistic and patronizing--he saw the Natives as children in need of guidance and believed the removal policy benefitted the Natives.

The Indian Removal Act would lead to the destructive Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears was a series of forced relocations of Native American nations from the Southern states to reservations in the West. The Native nations who were affected by this were the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw who were forcefully removed from their ancestral lands to west of the Mississippi River. Over 20,000 Cherokee alone were marched along the Trail of Tears and a quarter of them died before reaching their final destination.

Many people imagine the American West like a spaghetti western movie--cowboys and Indians, shootouts at high noon, and characters like Jesse James and Billy the Kid roamed free, but that wasn't always the case. For many, life was more like "Little House on the Prairie" than "Gunfight at the OK Corral".

Form 1811 to 1840, the Oregon Trail opened up the West to new settlers and Oregon, Washington State, and California would enter the Union shortly after.

The Oregon Trail began as a network of unconnected trails used by Native Americans and fur traders. The Oregon Trail was a route taken by settlers from the East migrating to build a new life in the West. The Oregon Trail was 2,000 miles long, starting in Independence, Missouri and ending in Oregon City, Oregon. The Oregon Trail could be treacherous, as the settlers would have to cross fast-moving rivers, mountain passes in the Colorado Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains; and drowning, dysentery, and starvation were huge risks during the six-month long journey.

Many people were caught up in the fervor of westward expansion in the 1830s through 1840s, taking the Oregon Trail and its less famous counterpart, the California Trail, but not everyone was prepared for the journey and tragedy struck.

The most famous tragedy regarding settlers moving out West was the Donner party tragedy. On April 16, 1846 nine covered wagons departed Springfield, Illinois for California, a 2,500 mile journey. James Reed, the originator of the group, read about a new trail, the Hastings Trail, which promised a journey 350 to 400 miles shorter than the Oregon Trail...but unbeknownst to Reed the new trail hadn't been tested. Reed soon found others who were interested in a new life in California, including the Donners, Graves, Breens, Murphys, Eddys, McCutcheons, Kesebergs, Wolfingers, and others. The group initially consisted of 32 men, women, and children and would pick up countless others as they made their way across the US.

The group faced dangerous storms and high waters, and lost one of their members due to sickness a month into their journey. At a stop in Fort Laramie, Wyoming James Reed ran into an old friend who told him to get off the Hastings Trail and onto the California Trail, but Reed didn't listen, and brothers Jacob and George Donner, their families, and a sizeable group of pioneers they picked up along the way decided to split from the main party. The Donner party became trapped by snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in October and soon ran out of supplies. To survive, they ate their pack animals, twigs, bark, and dirt...in December, the group that now numbered 89 pioneers, decided that if one would die the others might live. On Christmas Day 1846, the group ate their first human. As people continued to die, the bodies were dismembered and the meat was labeled so the pioneers didn't eat their family members. After spring broke, the 45 people that remained continued on the trail to California and arrived in 1847. The pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains was named the Donner Pass, after George Donner who had died.

The West was won through land expansion, forced relocation, voluntary migration, and through the blood, sweat, and tears of those who traveled along the dangerous trails and had to fight for their parcel of land.

As we continue to move throughout American history, we're going to continue to explore the themes of expansion and innovation so we can see how our country has developed over the years.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Reforms from the 1820s through the 1860s

In the early 1800s, the United States was going through a great change and was experiencing a rise in industrialization. This was the Industrial Revolution, which is known for its rise of factories and urbanization, the rise of new inventions meant to improve the lives of others, and the first wave of immigration. However, the Industrialization was also known for an increase in the wealth gap and a rising number of urban poor. It was because of these reasons that groups, both religious and not, began reform movements to help those who were in need.

Economic Reforms
·         Panic of 1837
o   Van Buren comes to office just as economic crisis hits the fan—he has pledged to continue deregulation, but several issues converge:
§  After destruction of the National Bank, currency is destabilized and loses value
§  State banks increase currency supply by printing paper money; they float risky loans and everyone goes into debt
§  British investors got rid of their paper money and demanded hard currency
§  Speculation in stocks and land—markets collapsed and financial ruin was widespread
o   Effects of the Panic
§  343 out of 865 banks in the U.S. close down permanently
§  $100 million lost in NY alone
§  5-year economic depression
§  Damages Van Buren’s reputation 

·         Cultural Impact of Industrialization
o   Lots of poor people, “middling”, fell back into poverty despite their best efforts—creates the conditions where a sustained critique of market capitalism is possible
o   Political independence eroded by economic collapse

The Reform Impulse
·         Voluntary Associations
o   Long important to American civic life
o   Three basis methods:
§  Persuasion
§  Use of power of the government
§  Withdraw from corruption of society and set a good example worth imitating

The Utopian Impulse
·         In the economic upheaval of the Market Revolution, other models of social and political organization appear worth investigating
·         Bucolic, pastoral communal life was seen as an antidote to relentless urban material competition—a spiritual retreat and maybe a safe harbor for people battered by successive Panics
·         The new communities that spring up (Owenites, Shakers, Mormons, Oneida, Transcendentalists, etc.) all challenged the tenants of Christianity, family, and marriage.

Social Activism

·        Social activism began with a strong religious propulsion with emphasis on perfecting human institutions to make a more perfect society. 
·        Benevolent societies (charitable organizations)

·         Education reform
o   Branson Alcott
§  Learning by doing; conversations between equals; learning interactive and creation of critical abilities; deduce values and ethics rather than instill them
o   Elizabeth Peabody
§  Established U.S. kindergarten; led early education movement
o   Horace Mann
§  Public should pay for education with tax dollars; everyone should have access to public classrooms; strict training standards for teacher competency; equal pay for male and female teachers; broad curriculum; schools should be non-sectarian
·         Prison Reform
o   Improved facilities; better security
o   Shift in emphasis to productive labor
o   Separate out the mentally ill, elderly, poor, and developmentally disabled from criminals
o   Create separate asylums for non-criminal social dependents 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Why the Era of Good Feelings Wasn't an Era of Good Feelings

As promised, this post is going to highlight the numerous reasons why the Era of Good Feelings wasn't an era of good feelings. In fact, the name for the era was a name given ironically. There were major changes in the US during this period which did help to strengthen the young country; however, this was an era where everything was being questioned and scrutinized...and for good reason, as you will find out.

A political war was brewing during this period, one that would spill over into a later conflict (let's see if you can guess which one after reading the rest of this post).

As mentioned in a previous post, the northern states and the southern states had many differences, which led them to be at odds with one another. Despite being at odds with one another and despite their differences, their economies were very closely tied together--the North needed Southern cotton and tobacco and the South needed Northern industry to take the raw materials and produce goods for them.

During the Era of Good Feelings, slavery was still very prominent, and so was the issue about what to do with states as they entered the Union. The Northwest Ordinance of 1789 stated that slavery would not exist in the Western territories (what we call the Mid-West today) above the 36*30' line. The Ordinance was very controversial, as many people believed that slavery shouldn't be limited to the South. Many people believed that Congress had no constitutional warrant to abolish slavery in the territories. President Monroe took the issue to his cabinet, many of whom were pro-slavery but also strict constitutionalists, who believed that Congress did have the power to prohibit slavery in the territories.

Despite the Northwest Ordinance, issues still arose.

Missouri Compromise: The Missouri Compromise was an effort by Congress in late 1819 to defuse the sectional and political rivalries caused by Missouri wanting to enter the Union as a slave state, which would produce 10 free states and 11 slave states, causing an imbalance. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise was ratified, allowing Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine entered the Union as a free state, keeping the balance.

Citation: reocities.com

As you can see from the picture above, the state of Missouri is above the 36*30' line, going against the Northwest Ordinance (which used the Mississippi River as a border).


North-South tensions weren't all that made the Era of Good Feelings an era of not-so-good feelings. Politics, and the attempted breaking down of political parties, is another example.

In his 1796 farewell address, George Washington urged against political parties, saying they will divide the Union. Monroe, a Republican, sought to merge the Federalist party with his own party, creating a unified party. However, the method Monroe used to do so was that of neglect: they weren't given any political patronage or appointments of any kind. Basically, he used elementary school logic-- "If we ignore them, they'll go away".

In 1817 and 1819, Monroe went on a "Goodwill Tour". This was similar to how Presidents in the present travel across the country and around the world. Through his physical appearance and demeanor, Monroe spread good tidings as he toured Boston, Massachusetts--a Federalist stronghold--and Monroe's visit elicited a huge outpouring of nationalist pride.

In 1820 Monroe was reelected as President in a near-unanimous victory. It seemed as though the process of de-Federalization was complete.

Now, however, Monroe had to worry about intraparty rivalries. Just because you "get rid of" your opposing political party doesn't mean those differences which caused the opposing party to form aren't still there. Monroe had a cabinet comprised of political rivalries, and tensions were high. After "uniting" the political parties, Monroe was deprived of appealing to Republican solidarity to clear the way for his numerous programs in Congress.


The economy plays a huge role in any era, and the Era of Good Feelings was no exception.

In 1819 the first major peacetime financial crisis to hit the US erupted. The Panic of 1819 caused a general collapse of the US economy which lasted through 1821, and full economic recovery not having been reached until 1824. Prior to the Panic, banks throughout the country failed, and falling prices and an influx of foreign goods impaired agriculture and manufacturing. Widespread unemployment occurred and many people were kicked out of their homes and off of their farms. All regions of the country were effected.

Reactions to the Panic 1819 varied from region to region. People in the North wanted to enact high tariffs to protect them from foreign competitors; people in the South hated the high tariffs and believed freer trade would help revive the economy; people from the West blamed the bankers and land speculators for buying and selling land they couldn't afford.

The Era of Good Feelings was not an era of good feelings for many, but you have to take the bad with the good and times keeps going by.

My next post will lead us to the age of reform--the antebellum era. We'll learn about revivalism and the reforms that came about from it, such as abolitionism, prison reform, education reform, temperance movement, prostitution prohibition, and the early women's suffrage movement. Join me next time here on The Half-Pint Historian!  

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