To Break Our Bonds of Affection: The Coming of Civil War

This lesson was reported from:
A chapter of The United States: An Open Ended History, a free online textbook.  Adapted in part from open sources.

For Your Consideration:
  1. What does it mean to say that South Carolina and – in total 11 states – seceded from the Union?
  2. According to their own statements, why did these states secede?
  3. What was the Anaconda Plan? Why did the Union think it would work?
  4. What was the effect of the Battle of Antietam?
  5. What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?
  6. How did African Americans serve their country during the Civil War?

Secession and Civil War

Lincoln’s victory in the presidential election of November 1860 made South Carolina’s secession from the Union on January 31 a foregone conclusion. The state had long been waiting for an event that would unite the South against the antislavery forces. By February 1, 1862, five more Southern states had seceded. On February 8, the six states signed a provisional constitution for the Confederate States of America. The remaining Southern states as yet remained in the Union, although Texas had begun to move on its secession.

Less than a month later, March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States. In his inaugural address, he declared the Confederacy “legally void” and denounced secession as anarchy, explaining that majority rule had to be balanced by constitutional restraints in the American system of republicanism:

“A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people.”

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Abraham Lincoln’s First Inauguration, March 4, 1861, beneath the unfinished capitol dome.

Desperately wishing to avoid this terrible conflict, Lincoln ended with this impassioned plea:

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

But the South turned a deaf ear. On April 12, Confederate guns opened fire on the federal garrison at Fort Sumter in the Charleston, South Carolina, harbor. In response to the attack, on April 15, Lincoln called on the states to send detachments totaling 75,000 troops to recapture forts, protect the capital, and “preserve the Union,” which in his view still existed intact despite the actions of the seceding states.  A war had begun in which more Americans would die than in any other conflict before or since.

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Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina.

In the seven states that had seceded, people responded positively to the Confederate action and the leadership of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Both sides now tensely awaited the action of the slave states that thus far had remained loyal. Virginia seceded on April 17; Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina followed quickly.

No state left the Union with greater reluctance than Virginia. Her statesmen had a leading part in the winning of the Revolution and the framing of the Constitution, and she had provided the nation with five presidents. With Virginia went Colonel Robert E. Lee, who declined the command of the Union Army out of loyalty to his native state.

Between the enlarged Confederacy and the free-soil North lay the border slave states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, which, despite some sympathy with the South, would remain loyal to the Union.

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The evolution of the Confederate States of America.

Each side entered the war with high hopes for an early victory. In material resources the Union, or the North,enjoyed a decided advantage. Twenty-three states with a population of 22 million were arrayed against 11 states inhabited by nine million, including slaves. The industrial superiority of the North exceeded even its preponderance in population, providing it with abundant facilities for manufacturing arms and ammunition, clothing, and other supplies. It had a greatly superior railway network.

The Confederacy, or the South nonetheless had certain advantages. The most important was geography; the South was fighting a defensive war on its own territory. It could establish its independence simply by beating off the Northern armies. The South also had a stronger military tradition, and possessed the more experienced military leaders.

The Confederacy

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Despite never having historically represented the Confederate States of America as a country, nor officially recognized as one of its national flags, the rectangular Second Confederate Navy Jack and the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia are now flag types commonly referred to as the Confederate Flag. They both have become a widely recognized symbol of the Southern United States. It is also known as the rebel flag, Dixie flag, and Southern cross.

Lincoln had never called for the immediate abolition of slavery, but for Southern states, the writing was on the wall – their political clout had diminished in the face of the North’s larger population, and they feared that his policies would lead to abolition in the future. Although the South was fighting a pro-slavery war, it’s important to note that, at least in the beginning, the North was not fighting an anti-slavery war. The North was fighting to preserve the Union – fighting for the principle that no state had the right to secede.  After all, where in the Constitution is the clause describing the process by which a state may leave the United States?  Lincoln’s argument is that divorce, so to speak, was impossible.

Many Southerners today like to claim that the Confederacy was not primarily about slavery or racism, but about pride and states’ rights against federal power. Back in the time of the Civil War, however, Confederate leaders were much more honest about their motives. They believed that blacks were inferior to whites. They believed that slavery was a good thing. They were fighting to preserve the institution of slavery and they said so openly over and over again.

In his infamous “Cornerstone Speech,” Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said that the Declaration of Independence had been wrong to say that all men are created equal: “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.”

The Southern states that published declarations setting forth their reasons for seceding from the Union all said that a commitment to the institution of slavery and a belief in black inferiority were at the heart of their cause.

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery,” said Mississippi’s declaration.

Georgia declared, “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.”

South Carolina justified its secession on the basis of “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery.”

Texas declared that it was committed to “maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery — the servitude of the African to the white race.”

Western Advance, Eastern Stalemate

The first large battle of the war, at the First Battle of Bull Run, near Washington, DC, stripped away any illusions that victory would be quick or easy. It also established a pattern, at least in the Eastern United States, of bloody Southern victories that never translated into a decisive military advantage for the Confederacy.

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The First Battle of Bull Run (the Union named battles after nearby bodies of water), also known as the First Battle of Manassas (the Confederacy named battles after nearby towns), was fought on July 21, 1861 in Prince William County, Virginia, about 25 miles west-southwest of Washington, D.C. It was the first major battle of the American Civil War. The Union’s forces were slow in positioning themselves, allowing Confederate reinforcements time to arrive by rail. Each side had about 18,000 poorly trained and poorly led troops in their first battle. It was a Confederate victory, followed by a disorganized retreat of the Union forces.

In contrast to its military failures in the East, the Union was able to secure battlefield victories in the West and slow strategic success at sea. Most of the Navy, at the war’s beginning, was in Union hands, but it was scattered and weak.

In April 1861, Lincoln announced the Union blockade of all Southern ports – the so-called Anaconda Plan, which sought to suffocate the Southern economy. The South had almost no factories of its own, meaning that guns, ammunition, clothing, shoes, and most everything else had to be traded for, mostly with the North or with Britain, and both of these avenues were now closed.  “King Cotton” was dead, as the South could export less than 10 percent of its cotton. The blockade shut down the ten Confederate seaports with railheads that moved almost all of its cotton, including New Orleans, Mobile, and Charleston. By June 1861, warships were stationed off the principal Southern ports, and a year later nearly 300 ships were in service.

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Proposed by Union general-in-chief Winfield Scott, the Anaconda Plan emphasized a Union blockade of the Southern ports, and called for an advance down the Mississippi River to cut the South in two. Because the blockade would be rather passive, it was widely derided by a vociferous faction of Union generals who wanted a more vigorous prosecution of the war, and who likened it to the coils of an anaconda suffocating its victim. The snake image caught on, giving the proposal its popular name.

The Southern economy nearly collapsed during the war. There were multiple reasons for this: the severe deterioration of food supplies, especially in cities, the failure of already limited Southern railroads, the loss of control of the main rivers, foraging by Northern armies, and the seizure of animals and crops by Confederate armies.

In the Mississippi Valley, the Union forces won an almost uninterrupted series of victories. They began by breaking a long Confederate line in Tennessee, thus making it possible to occupy almost all the western part of the state. When the important Mississippi River port of Memphis was taken, Union troops advanced some 320 kilometers into the heart of the Confederacy. With the tenacious General Ulysses S. Grant in command, they withstood a sudden Confederate counterattack at Shiloh, on the bluffs overlooking the Tennessee River. Those killed and wounded at Shiloh numbered more than 10,000 on each side, a casualty rate that Americans had never before experienced. But it was only the beginning of the carnage.

In Virginia, by contrast, Union troops continued to meet one defeat after another in a succession of bloody attempts to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital. The Confederates enjoyed strong defense positions afforded by numerous streams cutting the road between Washington and Richmond. Their two best generals, Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. (“Stonewall”) Jackson, both far surpassed in ability their early Union counterparts. In 1862 Union commander George McClellan made a slow, excessively cautious attempt to seize Richmond. But in the Seven Days’ Battles between June 25 and July 1, the Union troops were driven steadily backward, both sides suffering terrible losses.

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Lincoln with McClellan after the Battle of Antietam. McClellan repeatedly failed to engage in decisive conflicts with the Confederate Army out of a mistaken fear that he was outnumbered by the enemy.

After another Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run (or Second Manassas), Lee crossed the Potomac River and invaded Maryland. McClellan again responded tentatively, despite learning that Lee had split his army and was heavily outnumbered. The Union and Confederate Armies met at Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862, in the bloodiest single day of the war: More than 4,000 died on both sides and 18,000 were wounded. Despite his numerical advantage, however, McClellan failed to break Lee’s lines or press the attack, and Lee was able to retreat across the Potomac with his army intact. As a result, Lincoln fired McClellan.

Although the Battle of Antietam was inconclusive in military terms, its consequences were nonetheless momentous. Great Britain and France, both on the verge of recognizing the Confederacy, delayed their decision, and the South never received the diplomatic recognition and the economic aid from Europe that it desperately sought.

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The Battle of Antietam still holds a record as the single bloodiest day in United States history, with a combined tally of 22,717 dead, wounded, or missing.

Antietam also gave Lincoln the opening he needed to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in states rebelling against the Union were free. In practical terms, the proclamation had little immediate impact; it freed slaves only in the Confederate states, while leaving slavery intact in the border states. Politically, however, it meant that in addition to preserving the Union, the abolition of slavery was now a declared objective of the Union war effort.

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Areas covered by the Emancipation Proclamation are in red. Slave holding areas not covered are in blue.

The final Emancipation Proclamation, issued January 1, 1863, also authorized the recruitment of African Americans into the Union Army, a move abolitionist leaders such as Frederick Douglass had been urging since the beginning of armed conflict. Union forces already had been sheltering escaped slaves as “contraband of war,” but following the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union Army recruited and trained regiments of African-American soldiers that fought with distinction in battles from Virginia to the Mississippi. About 178,000 African Americans served in the U.S. Colored Troops, and 29,500 served in the Union Navy.

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The United States Colored Troops (USCT) were regiments in the United States Army composed primarily of African-American (colored) soldiers, although members of other minority groups also served with the units. They were first recruited during the American Civil War, and by the end of that war in April 1865, the 175 USCT regiments constituted about one-tenth of the manpower of the Union Army. About 20% of USCS soldiers died, a rate about 35% higher than that for white Union troops. Despite heavy casualties, many fought with distinction.

The 54th Massachusetts Regiment was the first black regiment recruited in the North. Col. Robert Gould Shaw, the 25 year old son of very wealthy abolitionist parents, was chosen to command – a position still limited to white men. On July 18 came the supreme test of the courage and valor of these black soldiers; they were chosen to lead the assault on Battery Wagner, a Confederate fort on Morris Island at Charleston. In addressing his soldiers before leading them in a charge across the beach, Colonel Shaw said, “I want you to prove yourselves. The eyes of thousands will look on what you do tonight.”

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Mary Smith Peake was an American teacher, humanitarian, and a member of the black elite in Hampton, Virginia, best known for starting a school for the children of former slaves starting in the fall of 1861 under what became known as the Emancipation Oak.

While some blacks chose to join the military, others fought by other means. An American teacher named Mary S. Peake worked to educate the freedmen and “contraband.” She spent her days under a large oak tree teaching others near Fort Monroe in Virginia. (This giant tree is now over 140 years old and called Emancipation Oak). Since Fort Monroe remained under Union control this area was somewhat of a safe location for refugees and runaways to come to. Mary’s school would house around 50 children during the day and 20 adults at night.

Juneteenth (a portmanteau of June and nineteenth) is a holiday celebrating the liberation of those who had been held as slaves in the United States. Originally a Texas state holiday, it is now celebrated annually on the 19th of June throughout the United States, with varying official recognition. Specifically, it commemorates Union army general Gordon Granger announcing federal orders in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, proclaiming that all people held as slaves in Texas were free.

The Emancipation Proclamation had officially outlawed slavery in Texas and the other states then in rebellion against the U.S. almost two and a half years earlier, but Texas was the most remote of the slave states, with a low presence of Union troops, so enforcement there had been slow and inconsistent before Granger’s announcement. Although Juneteenth is commonly thought of as celebrating the end of slavery in the United States, it was still legal and practiced in Union border states until December 6, 1865, when ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished non-penal slavery nationwide.

Despite the political gains represented by the Emancipation Proclamation, however, the North’s military prospects in the East remained bleak as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia continued to maul the Union Army of the Potomac, first at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862 and then at Chancellorsville in May 1863. But Chancellorsville, although one of Lee’s most brilliant military victories, was also one of his most costly. His most valued lieutenant, General “Stonewall” Jackson, was mistakenly shot and killed by his own men.

The war was far from over, but increasingly, the writing was on the wall – the North’s will to fight was just as strong as any rebel in the South, but the North had the economic drive and manpower to go the distance.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. A Nation Divided: The American Civil War
  2. The Civil War and Reconstruction

Manifest Destiny, Westward Expansion, and the Conquest of Mexico

This lesson was reported from:
A chapter of The United States: An Open Ended History, a free online textbook.  Adapted in part from open sources.

For Your Consideration:
  1. Why did the Mexican government encourage Americans to move to Texas? What caused these Americans to revolt against Mexico?
  2. What was Manifest Destiny? Did all people at the time agree with this idea?
  3. Why didn’t Texas immediately join the United States?
  4. How did the Mexican-American War begin?
  5. Why did a number of Northerners – such as Henry David Thoreau, John Quincy Adams, and Frederick Douglass – oppose the war?
  6. What did the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo do?

Texas

Comancheria
The Comancheria is the name commonly given to the region of New Mexico, west Texas and nearby areas occupied by the Comanche before the 1860s. They were dominate power in the region and are sometimes called an empire, though they were regarded as little more than bandits at the time.

Mexico obtained independence from Spain in 1821, and briefly experimented with monarchy, becoming a republic in 1824. This early period of Mexican history was characterized by considerable instability.  In the 1820s and 30s, the northern Mexican region of Texas was very sparsely populated, with fewer than 3,500 non-Native American residents, and only about 200 soldiers, which made it extremely vulnerable to attacks by the Comanche, Apache, and Navajo – who also claimed the land as their own. These indigenous people, especially the Comanche, took advantage of the weakness of the newly independent Mexico to undertake large-scale raids over hundreds of miles against Mexican targets to acquire livestock for their own use and to supply an expanding market in Texas and the US.

In the hopes that an influx of settlers could control the Indian raids, the bankrupt Mexican government liberalized immigration policies for the region. Finally able to settle legally in Texas, Americans from the United States soon vastly outnumbered the Tejanos, or Mexican citizens of Texas. Most of the immigrants came from the southern United States. Many were slave owners, and most brought with them significant prejudices against other races, attitudes often applied to the Tejanos.

Mexican authorities became increasingly concerned about the stability of the region – now because of the Americans in their midst. After Mexico abolished slavery in 1829, the American population in Texas teetered on the brink of revolt. Alarmed, the Mexican government implemented a new round of restrictions, which, among other things, prohibited further immigration to Texas from the United States, increased taxes, and reiterated the ban on slavery.  Settlers simply circumvented or ignored the laws. By 1834, an estimated 30,000 Americans lived in Texas, compared to only 7,800 Mexican-born residents. By the end of 1835, almost 5,000 enslaved Africans and African Americans lived in Texas, making up 13 percent of the non-Indian population.

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The Battle of the Alamo was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Following a 13-day siege, Mexican troops under President General Antonio López de Santa Anna launched an assault on the Alamo Mission near modern-day San Antonio, Texas, United States, killing the Texian defenders. Buoyed by a desire for revenge, the Texians defeated the Mexican Army at the Battle of San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836, ending the revolution.

The Republic of Texas declared independence from the Republic of Mexico on March 2, 1836. At the time the vast majority of the population favored the annexation of the Republic by the United States. Fearing a repeat of the Missouri crisis, the leadership of both major U.S. political parties, the Democrats and the Whigs, opposed the introduction of Texas, a vast slave-holding region, into the volatile political climate of the pro- and anti-slavery sectional controversies in Congress. Moreover, they wished to avoid a war with Mexico, whose government refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of its rebellious northern province.

Manifest Destiny

For individual settlers, the decision to move west was typically driven by the desire for economic opportunity.  But how did Americans justify their right to take lands from Native Americans, Mexicans, and others who might already live in the west?

In the 19th century, manifest destiny was a widely held belief in the United States that its settlers were destined to expand across the entire continent of North America. A term coined by journalist John L. O’Sullivan in 1845 to describe a set of attitudes that had already existed for some time before, there are three basic themes to manifest destiny:

  • the virtue of the American people and their institutions;
  • the mission to spread these institutions, thereby redeeming and remaking the world in the image of the United States;
  • the destiny under God to do this work.

O’Sullivan wrote: “And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”

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American Progress, (1872) by John Gast, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Columbia, a personification of the United States, is shown leading civilization westward with the American settlers. She is shown bringing light from the East into the West, stringing telegraph wire, holding a school textbook that will instill knowledge,[1] and highlights different stages of economic activity and evolving forms of transportation.
O’Sullivan’s original conception of manifest destiny was not a call for territorial expansion by force. He believed that the expansion of the United States would happen without the direction of the U.S. government or the involvement of the military. After Americans immigrated to new regions, they would set up new democratic governments, and then seek admission to the United States, as Texas had done. In 1845, O’Sullivan predicted that California would follow this pattern next, and that Canada would eventually request annexation as well. 

Ironically, O’Sullivan’s term became popular only after it was criticized by Whig opponents of the Polk administration. On January 3, 1846, Representative Robert Winthrop ridiculed the concept in Congress, saying “I suppose the right of a manifest destiny to spread will not be admitted to exist in any nation except the universal Yankee nation.” Winthrop was the first in a long line of critics who suggested that advocates of manifest destiny were citing “Divine Providence” for justification of actions that were motivated by chauvinism and self-interest. Despite this criticism, expansionists embraced the phrase, which caught on so quickly that its origin was soon forgotten.

The Mexican-American War

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Mexico in 1824.

For almost a decade, Texas remained an independent republic, largely because its annexation as a huge new slave state would disrupt the increasingly precarious balance of political power in the United States. In 1845, President James K. Polk, narrowly elected on a platform of westward expansion, brought the Republic of Texas into the Union as the 28th state. Polk’s move was the first gambit in a larger design. Texas claimed that its border with Mexico was the Rio Grande River; Mexico argued that the border stood 150 miles to the north along the Nueces River. Meanwhile, American settlers were flooding into the territories of New Mexico and California, citing manifest destiny as their justification to do so.

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The Republic of Texas: The present-day outlines of the individual U.S. states are superimposed on the boundaries of 1836–1845.

U.S. attempts to purchase from Mexico the New Mexico and California territories failed. In 1846, President Polk ordered General Taylor and his forces south to the Rio Grande, entering deep into the territory that Mexico claimed as their own.

Regarding the beginning of the war, Ulysses S. Grant, who had opposed the war but served as an army lieutenant in Taylor’s Army, claims in his Personal Memoirs (1885) that the main goal of the U.S. Army’s advance from Nueces River to Rio Grande was to provoke the outbreak of war without attacking first – to make the whole war seem defensive, rather than as a war of conquest against a weaker nation.

“We were sent to provoke a fight, but it was essential that Mexico should commence it. It was very doubtful whether Congress would declare war; but if Mexico should attack our troops, the Executive could announce, “Whereas, war exists by the acts of, etc.,” and prosecute the contest with vigor. Once initiated there were but few public men who would have the courage to oppose it….

Mexico showing no willingness to come to the Nueces to drive the invaders from her soil, it became necessary for the ‘invaders’ to approach to within a convenient distance to be struck. Accordingly, preparations were begun for moving the army to the Rio Grande… It was desirable to occupy a position near the largest centre of population possible to reach, without absolutely invading territory to which we set up no claim whatever.

Eleven American soldiers were killed in this initial conflict, provoked by the Americans.  Just as Grant described, Polk claimed the need to avenge the honor of these fallen men and pushed for open warfare against Mexico – a full invasion by the better equipped, better organized U.S. army commenced.  His message to Congress on May 11, 1846, claimed that “Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil.”

American troops occupied the lightly populated territory of New Mexico, then supported a revolt of settlers in California. A U.S. force under Zachary Taylor invaded Mexico, winning victories at Monterrey and Buena Vista, but failing to bring the Mexicans to the negotiating table.

Mexico was not inclined nor able to negotiate. In 1846 alone, the presidency changed hands four times, the war ministry six times, and the finance ministry sixteen times. Mexican public opinion and all political factions agreed that selling the territories to the United States would tarnish the national honor. Mexicans who opposed direct conflict with the United States were viewed as traitors.

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This lithograph from 1847 depicting the Battle of Churubusco suggests the lopsided nature of many of the conflicts in the Mexican-American War.

Opposition to the War

In the United States, increasingly divided by sectional rivalry, the war was a partisan issue. Most Whigs in the North and South opposed it; most Democrats supported it.  Southern Democrats supported it in hope of adding slave-owning territory to the South and avoiding being overwhelmed in the Senate by the faster-growing North.

Northern antislavery elements feared the expansion of the Southern Slave Power; Whigs generally wanted to strengthen the economy with industrialization, not expand it with more land. Among the most vocal opposing the war in the House of Representatives was John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts. Adams had first voiced concerns about expanding into Mexican territory in 1836 when he opposed Texas annexation. He continued this argument in 1846 for the same reason. War with Mexico would add new slavery territory to the nation. When the vote to go to war with Mexico came to a vote on May 13, Adams spoke a resounding “No!” in the chamber. Only 13 others followed his lead.

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Ex-slave Frederick Douglass opposed the war and was dismayed by the weakness of the anti-war movement. “The determination of our slave holding president, and the probability of his success in wringing from the people, men and money to carry it on, is made evident by the puny opposition arrayed against him. None seem willing to take their stand for peace at all risks.”

Northern abolitionists attacked the war as an attempt by slave-owners to strengthen the grip of slavery and thus ensure their continued influence in the federal government. Prominent artists and writers opposed the war.

The Transcendentalist writers Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson attacked the popular war. Thoreau, who served jail time for refusing to pay his taxes in opposition, composed an essay on how to resist such a large-scale injustice as the war.  That essay is now known as Civil Disobedience. Emerson was succinct, predicting that, “The United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as a man who swallowed the arsenic which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us.” Events proved him right, as arguments over the expansion of slavery in the lands seized from Mexico would fuel the drift to civil war just a dozen years later.

Democratic Representative David Wilmot introduced the Wilmot Proviso, which would prohibit slavery in new territory acquired from Mexico. Wilmot’s proposal passed the House but not the Senate, and it spurred further hostility between the factions.

The End of the War

The Battle of Chapultepec was an encounter between the Mexican Army and the United States on the castle of Chapultepec which sits high atop a cliff. At this time, this castle was a renowned military school. After the battle, which ended in the American capture of Mexico City, the legend of “Los Niños Héroes” was born. Although the story is unconfirmed by historians, six military cadets between the ages of 13 and 17 are said to have stayed in the school instead of evacuating, choosing instead to stand their ground for the honor of Mexico. Rather than surrender to the U.S. Army, some of military cadets leaped from the castle walls. One cadet wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and jumped to his death. These Niños Héroes (hero children) became icons in Mexico’s pantheon of heroes.

Outnumbered militarily and with many of its large cities occupied, Mexico could not defend itself; the country was also faced with many internal divisions. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848, ended the war. The treaty gave the U.S. undisputed control of Texas, established the U.S.-Mexican border at the Rio Grande, and ceded to the United States the present-day states of California, Nevada, and Utah, most of New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado, and parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming (together, so-called Mexican Cession). In return, Mexico received $15 million (approximately $424 million today) – less than half the amount the U.S. had attempted to offer Mexico for the land before the opening of hostilities.

The acquisition was a source of controversy, especially among U.S. politicians who had opposed the war from the start. A leading antiwar U.S. newspaper, the Whig National Intelligencer, sardonically concluded that “We take nothing by conquest … Thank God.”

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Mexican territorial claims relinquished under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in white.

Before ratifying the treaty, the U.S. Senate made two modifications: changing the wording of Article IX (which guaranteed Mexicans living in the purchased territories the right to become U.S. citizens) and striking out Article X (which conceded the legitimacy of land grants made by the Mexican government).  As a result, the majority of Mexicans who suddenly found themselves living in the United States would come to be considered foreigners in their own home and would ultimately lose their land to American settlers who flooded the Mexican Cession over the next generation.

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War News from Mexico (1848).

The war was a decisive event for the U.S., marking a significant waypoint for the nation as a growing military power, and a milestone in the U.S. narrative of Manifest Destiny. The war did not resolve the issue of slavery in the U.S. but rather in many ways inflamed it, as potential westward expansion of the institution of slavery became an increasingly central and heated theme in national debates preceding the American Civil War. By extending the nation from coast to coast, the Mexican–American War was a next step in the huge migrations to the West of Americans, which culminated in transcontinental railroads and the Indian wars later in the same century.

The military defeat and loss of territory was a disastrous blow to Mexico, causing the country to enter a period of self-examination as its leaders sought to identify and address the reasons that had led to such a debacle.  The war remains a painful historical event for the country.

In Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park, the Niños Héroes (Monument to the Heroic Cadets) commemorates the heroic sacrifice of the six teenaged military cadets who fought to their deaths rather than surrender to American troops during the Battle of Chapultepec Castle. The monument is an important patriotic site in Mexico. On March 5, 1947, nearly one hundred years after the battle, U.S. President Harry S. Truman placed a wreath at the monument and stood for a moment of silence.

The United States has no national memorial to the war, which remains largely unknown to most Americans.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. Texas Annexation
  2. Manifest Destiny
  3. The Mexican-American War
  4. Sectional Conflict

Andrew Jackson, For and Against the Common Man

This lesson was reported from:
A chapter of The United States: An Open Ended History, a free online textbook.  Adapted in part from open sources.

For Your Consideration:
  1. Why was the election of 1824 so controversial?
  2. What is nullification? How did Andrew Jackson respond to South Carolina’s attempts to nullify the tariff?
  3. Why didn’t President Jackson like the national bank? What did he do to kill it?
  4. What was the Indian Removal Act?
  5. What was the Trail of Tears?

The 1824 Election and Presidency of John Q. Adams

With the dissolution of the Federalist Party, there were no organized political parties for the 1824 presidential election, and four Democratic-Republicans vied for the office. The Tennessee legislature and a convention of Pennsylvania Democratic-Republicans had nominated General-turned-Senator Andrew Jackson. The Congressional Democratic-Republican caucus selected Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford. Secretary of State John Q. Adams, son of the former President Adams, and House Speaker Henry Clay also joined the contest.

When the electoral votes were cast and counted, no candidate had a majority of votes. Jackson had won the most votes, but Constitutionally, a plurality was not good enough, and the vote for the top three candidates went to the House of Representatives. Clay, with the least amount of votes, was ineligible, but still wielded a lot of power as speaker of the house. And since Clay had a personal dislike of Jackson and supported many of Adams’ policies, which were similar to his American System, Clay threw his support to Adams. Thanks to this support, Adams won the presidency, much to the chagrin of Jackson, who had won the most electoral and popular votes. After Adams appointed Clay as secretary of state, Jackson’s supporters protested that a corrupt bargain had been struck – that Jackson had been robbed of his rightful victory because of dishonest, behind-the-scenes deals made by the elite Adams and Clay.

The 1824 election enabled the resurgence of political parties in America. Jackson’s followers, members of the Democratic Party, were known as Jacksonians; Adams, Clay, and their supporters established the National Republican Party. Partisan politics was back in style in Washington, DC.

During Adams’s administration, new party alignments appeared. Adams’s followers, some of whom were former Federalists, took the name of “National Republicans” as emblematic of their support of a federal government that would take a strong role in developing an expanding nation. Though he governed honestly and efficiently, Adams was not a popular president. He failed in his effort to institute a national system of roads and canals. His coldly intellectual temperament did not win friends. Jackson, by contrast, had enormous popular appeal and a strong political organization. His followers coalesced to establish the Democratic Party, claimed direct lineage from the Democratic-Republican Party of Jefferson, and in general advocated the principles of small, decentralized government.

These factors meant that in the election of 1828, Jackson defeated Adams by an overwhelming electoral majority.

20

Jackson—Tennessee politician, fighter in wars against Native Americans on the Southern frontier, and hero of the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812—drew his support from poorer white men. He came to the presidency on a rising tide of enthusiasm for popular democracy. The election of 1828 was a significant benchmark in the trend toward broader voter participation. By then most states had either enacted universal white male suffrage or minimized property requirements. In 1824 members of the Electoral College in six states were still selected by the state legislatures. By 1828 presidential electors were chosen by popular vote in every state but Delaware and South Carolina. These developments were the products of a widespread sense that the people should rule and that government by traditional elites had come to an end.  Of course, the nation’s definition of “the people” did not include African Americans, Native Americans, or women of any race.

Nullification Crisis

Toward the end of his first term in office, Jackson was forced to confront the state of South Carolina, the most important of the emerging Deep South cotton states, on the issue of the protective tariff. Business and farming interests in the state had hoped that the president would use his power to modify the 1828 act that they called the Tariff of Abominations. In their view, all its benefits of protection went to Northern manufacturers, leaving agricultural South Carolina poorer. In 1828, the state’s leading politician—and Jackson’s vice president until his resignation in 1832—John C. Calhoun had declared in his South Carolina Exposition and Protest that states had the right to nullify oppressive national legislation.

In 1832, Congress passed and Jackson signed a bill that revised the 1828 tariff downward, but it was not enough to satisfy most South Carolinians. The state adopted an Ordinance of Nullification, which declared both the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 null and void within state borders. Its legislature also passed laws to enforce the ordinance, including authorization for raising a military force and appropriations for arms. Nullification – a state’s right to ignore federal laws with which it disagreed – was a long-established theme of protest against perceived excesses by the federal government. Jefferson and Madison had proposed it in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798, to protest the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Hartford Convention of 1814 had invoked it to protest the War of 1812. Never before, however, had a state actually attempted nullification. The young nation faced its most dangerous crisis yet.

In response to South Carolina’s threat, Jackson sent seven small naval vessels and a man-of-war to Charleston in November 1832. On December 10, he issued a resounding proclamation against the nullifiers. South Carolina, the president declared, stood on “the brink of insurrection and treason,” and he appealed to the people of the state to reassert their allegiance to the Union. He also let it be known that, if necessary, he personally would lead the U.S. Army to enforce the law.

When the question of tariff duties again came before Congress, Jackson’s political rival, Senator Henry Clay, a great advocate of protection but also a devoted Unionist, sponsored a compromise measure. Clay’s tariff bill, quickly passed in 1833, specified that all duties in excess of 20 percent of the value of the goods imported were to be reduced year by year, so that by 1842 the duties on all articles would reach the level of the moderate tariff of 1816. At the same time, Congress passed a Force Act, authorizing the president to use military power to enforce the laws.

South Carolina had expected the support of other Southern states, but instead found itself isolated. (Its most likely ally, the state government of Georgia, wanted, and got, U.S. military force to remove Native-American tribes from the state.) Eventually, South Carolina rescinded its action. Both sides, nevertheless, claimed victory. Jackson had strongly defended the Union. But South Carolina, by its show of resistance, had obtained many of its demands and had demonstrated that a single state could force its will on Congress.

The Bank War

Although the nullification crisis possessed the seeds of civil war, it was not as critical a political issue as a bitter struggle over the continued existence of the nation’s central bank, the second Bank of the United States. The first bank, established in 1791 under Alexander Hamilton’s guidance, had been chartered for a 20-year period. Though the government held some of its stock, the bank, like the Bank of England and other central banks of the time, was a private corporation with profits passing to its stockholders. Its public functions were to act as a depository for government receipts, to make short-term loans to the government, and above all to establish a sound currency by refusing to accept at face value notes (paper money) issued by state-chartered banks in excess of their ability to redeem.

King_Andrew_the_First_(political_cartoon_of_President_Andrew_Jackson)
King Andrew the First is a famous American political cartoon created by an unknown artist around 1833. The cartoon depicts Andrew Jackson, the 7th United States president, as a monarch holding a veto bill and trampling on the Constitution and on internal improvements of the national bank.

To the Northeastern financial and commercial establishment, the central bank was a needed enforcer of prudent monetary policy, but from the beginning it was resented by Southerners and Westerners who believed their prosperity and regional development depended upon ample money and credit. The Republican Party of Jefferson and Madison doubted its constitutionality. When its charter expired in 1811, it was not renewed.

For the next few years, the banking business was in the hands of state-chartered banks, which issued currency in excessive amounts, creating great confusion and fueling inflation. It became increasingly clear that state banks could not provide the country with a reliable currency. In 1816 a second Bank of the United States, similar to the first, was again chartered for 20 years. From its inception, the second bank was unpopular in the newer states and territories, especially with state and local bankers who resented its virtual monopoly over the country’s credit and currency, but also with less prosperous people everywhere, who believed that it represented the interests of the wealthy few.

On the whole, the bank was well managed and rendered a valuable service; but Jackson long had shared the Republican distrust of the financial establishment. Elected as a tribune of the people, he sensed that the bank’s aristocratic manager, Nicholas Biddle, was an easy target. When the bank’s supporters in Congress pushed through an early renewal of its charter, Jackson responded with a stinging veto that denounced monopoly and special privilege. The effort to override the veto failed.

800px-General_Jackson_Slaying_the_Many_Headed_Monster_(cropped)
A political cartoon depicting Jackson battling the many-headed monster of the bank.

In the presidential campaign of 1832, the bank question revealed a fundamental division. Established merchant, manufacturing, and financial interests favored sound money. Regional bankers and entrepreneurs on the make wanted an increased money supply and lower interest rates. Other debtor classes, especially farmers, shared those sentiments. Jackson and his supporters called the central bank a “monster” and coasted to an easy reelection victory over Henry Clay.

The president interpreted his triumph as a popular mandate to crush the central bank irrevocably. In September 1833 he ordered an end to deposits of government money in the bank, and gradual withdrawals of the money already in its custody. The government deposited its funds in selected state banks, characterized as “pet banks” by the opposition.

For the next generation the United States would get by on a relatively unregulated state banking system, which helped fuel westward expansion through cheap credit but kept the nation vulnerable to periodic panics. During the Civil War, the United States initiated a system of national charters for local and regional banks, but the nation returned to a central bank only with the establishment of the Federal Reserve system in 1913.

The Trail of Tears

In the 1820s, President Monroe’s secretary of war, John C. Calhoun, pursued a policy of removing the remaining tribes from the old Southwest and resettling them beyond the Mississippi. Jackson continued this policy as president. In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, providing funds to transport the eastern tribes beyond the Mississippi. In 1834 a special Native-American territory was set up in what is now Oklahoma. In all, the tribes signed 94 treaties during Jackson’s two terms, ceding millions of hectares to the federal government and removing dozens of tribes from their ancestral homelands.

The United States, as it expanded to the west, forcibly removed or killed many Native Americans from their lands as it violated the treaties and Indian rights which both parties had agreed upon. In this way, the concerns of white landowners were considered above the interests of the Indians. In Georgia, for instance, the governor ordered the Cherokee to vacate their lands so the territory would be able to be redistributed to poor Georgians. The Cherokee refused, as they contended that a treaty with the United States that had been signed earlier guaranteed their right to the land. Through a friend of the tribe, they brought their case all the way to the Supreme Court.

In 1832, when Andrew Jackson was President, the Supreme Court ruled that Georgia had acted unconstitutionally. However, Jackson refused to enforce the Court’s ruling. Meanwhile, Congress had passed the Indian Removal Act, which granted reservation land to Native Americans who relocated to territory west of the Mississippi. Under the law, Native Americans could have stayed and became citizens of their home states. The removal was supposed to be peaceful and by their own will, but Jackson forced them to go west.

The Cherokee were forced out of Georgia and had to endure a brutal and deadly trip to the area comprising present-day Oklahoma, a journey which they called the Trail of Tears. Between 2,000 and 4,000 of the 16,000 migrating Cherokees died during the journey, including women, children, and elderly members of the tribe. The conditions were horrible. They were exposed to disease and starvation on their way to the makeshift forts that they would live in. The Cherokees weren’t the only tribe that was forced to leave their homelands. The Choctaws, Creeks, Seminoles, and Chickasaws were also forced to migrate west. The Choctaws were forced to move first in the winter of 1831 and 1832 and many would die on the forced march. The Creek nation would resist the government in Alabama until 1836 but the army eventually pushed them towards Oklahoma. In the end the Natives forced to move traded about 100 million acres for about 32 million acres and about 65 million dollars total for all Native tribes forced to move. This forced relocation of the American Indians was only a chapter in the cruelty given to the Natives by the American government. These forced migrations would have a terrible effect on the Natives as many were victim to disease, starvation, and death.

Trails_of_Tears_en
Map of United States Indian Removal, 1830–1838. Oklahoma, the federally dedicated Indian Territory, is depicted in light yellow-green.

Seminole Wars

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In 1836, Osceola led a small group of warriors in the Seminole resistance during the Second Seminole War, when the United States tried to remove the tribe from their lands in Florida to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. Osceola led the Seminole resistance to removal until he was captured on October 21, 1837, by deception, under a flag of truce, when he came forward for peace talks.

The Seminole Nation in Florida also resisted forced migration. Osceola who was the leader of the Seminoles waged a fierce guerrilla war against federal troops in 1835. The Seminole forces included Creeks, Seminoles, and even African Americans. Osceola would be captured by the US Army under a false white flag of truce. He would die in a POW camp in 1838. However, the Seminoles continued to fight under Chief Coacoochee and other leaders. Finally, in 1842, after much violence on both side, the US would cease its removal efforts. Some Seminoles would remain in Florida to this day near the Everglades.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. Nationalism and Division
  2. Westward Expansion and Regional Differences

The Era of Good Feelings and Others Who Were Not So Lucky

This lesson was reported from:
A chapter of The United States: An Open Ended History, a free online textbook.  Adapted in part from open sources.

For Your Consideration:
  1. What was the point of the tariffs passed under the American System?
  2. Who liked these tariffs, and who did not?
  3. What did canals and railroads do for the United States?
  4. What was the argument that led to the Missouri Compromise?
  5. How did the Missouri Compromise resolve this dispute?

The Era of Good Feelings

The War of 1812 was, in a sense, a second war of independence that confirmed once and for all the American break with England. With its conclusion, many of the serious difficulties that the young republic had faced since the Revolution disappeared. National union under the Constitution brought a balance between liberty and order. With a low national debt and a continent awaiting exploration, the prospect of peace, prosperity, and social progress opened before the nation.

National pride and the lull in partisanship following the collapse of the Federalist Party led to a period often called the Era of Good Feelings.

Independence_Day_Celebration_in_Centre_Square
Independence Day Celebration in Centre Square by John Lewis Krimmel (1787–1821). Watercolor with pencil and ink on paper, 1819.

American System

Riding on the wave of newfound national pride, politicians such as Henry Clay of Kentucky, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and John Q. Adams of Massachusetts, following in Alexander Hamilton’s footsteps, pushed an agenda to strengthen and unify the nation. The system, which came to be known as the American System, called for high tariffs to protect American industry and high land prices to generate additional federal revenue. The plan also called for strengthening the nation’s infrastructure, such as roads and canals, which would be financed by tariffs and land revenue. The improvements would make trade easier and faster. Finally, the plan called for maintaining the Second Bank of the United States (chartered in 1816 for 20 years) to stabilize the currency and the banking system, as well as the issuance of sovereign credit. Congress also passed a protective tariff to aid industries that had flourished during the war of 1812 but were now threatened by the resumption of over seas trade. The Tariff of 1816 levied taxes on imported woolens and cottons, as well as on iron, leather, hats, papers, and sugar.

Although portions of the system were adopted (for example, 20-25% taxes on foreign goods, which encouraged consumption of relatively cheaper American goods), others met with roadblocks. Only two major infrastructure achievements were made in the form of the Cumberland Road and the Erie Canal. The Cumberland Road stretched between Baltimore and the Ohio River, facilitating ease of travel, trade, and providing a gateway to the West for settlement. The Erie Canal extended from the Hudson River at Albany, New York, to Buffalo, New York, at Lake Erie, thus vastly improving the speed and efficiency of water travel in the northeast.

Opposition to the American System mostly came from the West and the South. Clay argued, however, that the West should support the plan because urban workers in the northeast would be consumers of Western food, and the South should support it because of the market for the manufacture of cotton in northeastern factories. The South, however, strongly opposed tariffs and had a strong British market for cotton anyway.

In short, the American System met with mixed results over the 1810s and 1820s due to various obstacles, but in the end, American industry benefited, and growth ensued.

800px-Henry_Clay_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_16960
The Monkey System or Every One For Himself. Henry Clay says “Walk in and see the new improved grand original American System!” The cages are labeled: “Home, Consumption, Internal, Improv”. This 1831 cartoon ridiculing Clay’s American System depicts monkeys, labeled as being different parts of a nation’s economy, stealing each other’s resources (food) with commentators describing it as either great or a humbug.

Technology

During the early part of the 19th century individual states were finally able to build better infrastructure. The 1790s had seen the construction of two toll roads, Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike and New York State’s Great Western Turnpike. Now states such as Virginia, North Carolina, and Massachusetts built canals, vast artificial waterways to move vast quantities of goods and people. Unlike the rivers, canals were maintained without shallows or rapids through the use of locks and dams to maintain water height. Whereas steamboats had to fight the current, canal boats were drawn by horses or oxen along their placid way. In 1817 New York State authorized construction of the great Erie Canal. With the aid of roads, steamships and canals, people and goods could be swept from inner towns to the great East Coast markets, and to ships going abroad.

The increased levels of trade and manufacturing resulted in what has been termed the Market Revolution – no longer were individual Americans subsisting or trading only on a local level, but increasing numbers of them were driven by the promise of profit that could result from long distance, large scale trade.  This would give rise to the first true factories, as well as to the idea that people might work in factories for wages, rather than make their own hours on their own farms.

OldC&OCanalAtGeorgetown-LARGE
The C & O Canal at Georgetown, near Washington, DC. Notice the towpath beside the canal along which donkeys or horses would pull boats.

The Second Great Awakening

By the end of the 18th century, many educated Americans no longer professed traditional Christian beliefs. In reaction to the secularism of the age, a religious revival spread westward in the first half of the 19th century.

This “Second Great Awakening” consisted of several kinds of activity, distinguished by locale and expression of religious commitment. In New England, the renewed interest in religion inspired a wave of social activism. In western New York, the spirit of revival encouraged the emergence of new denominations. In the Appalachian region of Kentucky and Tennessee, the revival strengthened the Methodists and the Baptists, and spawned a new form of religious expression—the camp meeting.

In contrast to the Great Awakening of the 1730s, the revivals in the East were notable for the absence of hysteria and open emotion. Rather, unbelievers were awed by the “respectful silence” of those bearing witness to their faith. The evangelical enthusiasm in New England gave rise to interdenominational missionary societies, formed to evangelize the West. Members of these societies not only acted as apostles for the faith, but as educators, civic leaders, and exponents of Eastern, urban culture. Publication and education societies promoted Christian education. Most notable among them was the American Bible Society, founded in 1816. Social activism inspired by the revival gave rise to groups working toward the abolition of slavery and the Society for the Promotion of Temperance, as well as to efforts to reform prisons and care for the handicapped and mentally ill.

Western New York, from Lake Ontario to the Adirondack Mountains, had been the scene of so many religious revivals in the past that it was known as the “Burned-Over District.”  Two important religious denominations in America—the Mormons and the Seventh Day Adventists—got their start here.  After a great deal of violence and persecution from more traditional Christians, Mormons would find their way west, isolating themselves in the relative safety of the remote Salt Lake region.

In the Appalachian region, the revival took on characteristics similar to the Great Awakening of the previous century. But here, the center of the revival was the camp meeting, a religious service of several days’ length, for a group that was obliged to take shelter on the spot because of the distance from home. Pioneers in thinly populated areas looked to the camp meeting as a refuge from the lonely life on the frontier. The sheer exhilaration of participating in a religious revival with hundreds and perhaps thousands of people inspired the dancing, shouting, and singing associated with these events. Probably the largest camp meeting was at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in August 1801; between 10,000 and 25,000 people attended.

Methodist_camp_meeting_(1819_engraving)
An engraving of a Methodist camp meeting in 1819.

The Second Great Awakening exercised a profound impact on American history. The numerical strength of the Baptists and Methodists rose relative to that of the denominations dominant in the colonial period—Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists. The growing differences within American Protestantism reflected the growth and diversity of an expanding nation.

Extension of slavery

Slavery, which up to now had received little public attention, began to assume much greater importance as a national issue. In the early years of the republic, when the Northern states were providing for immediate or gradual emancipation of the slaves, many leaders had supposed that slavery would die out. In 1786 George Washington wrote that he devoutly wished some plan might be adopted “by which slavery may be abolished by slow, sure, and imperceptible degrees.” Virginians Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe and other leading Southern statesmen made similar statements.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had banned slavery in the Northwest Territory. As late as 1808, when the international slave trade was abolished, there were many Southerners who thought that slavery would soon end. The expectation proved false, for during the next generation, the South became solidly united behind the institution of slavery as new economic factors made slavery far more profitable than it had been before 1790.

Chief among these was the rise of a great cotton-growing industry in the South, stimulated by the introduction of new types of cotton and by Eli Whitney’s invention in 1793 of the cotton gin, which separated the seeds from cotton. At the same time, the Industrial Revolution, which made textile manufacturing a large-scale operation, vastly increased the demand for raw cotton. And the opening of new lands in the West after 1812 greatly extended the area available for cotton cultivation. Cotton culture moved rapidly from the Tidewater states on the East Coast through much of the lower South to the delta region of the Mississippi and eventually to Texas.

Sugar cane, another labor‑intensive crop, also contributed to slavery’s extension in the South. The rich, hot lands of southeastern Louisiana proved ideal for growing sugar cane profitably. By 1830 the state was supplying the nation with about half its sugar supply. Finally, tobacco growers moved westward, taking slavery with them.

As the free society of the North and the slave society of the South spread westward, it became politically necessary to maintain a rough equality among the new states carved out of western territories. In 1818, when Illinois was admitted to the Union, 10 states permitted slavery and 11 states prohibited it; but balance was restored after Alabama was admitted as a slave state. Population was growing faster in the North, which permitted Northern states to have a clear majority in the House of Representatives. However, equality between the North and the South was maintained in the Senate.

In 1819 Missouri, which had 10,000 slaves, applied to enter the Union. Northerners rallied to oppose Missouri’s entry except as a free state, and a storm of protest swept the country. For a time Congress was deadlocked, but Henry Clay arranged the so-called Missouri Compromise: Missouri was admitted as a slave state at the same time Maine came in as a free state. In addition, Congress banned slavery from the territory acquired by the Louisiana Purchase north of Missouri’s southern boundary. At the time, this provision appeared to be a victory for the Southern states because it was thought unlikely that this “Great American Desert” would ever be settled. The controversy was temporarily resolved, but Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that “this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union.”

USA_Territorial_Growth_1820_alt
The United States in 1819. The Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery in the unorganized territory of the Great Plains (upper dark green) and permitted it in Missouri (yellow) and the Arkansas Territory (lower blue area).

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. The Formation of a National Government
  2. Westward Expansion and Regional Differences

New World Colonist Recruitment Infomercial

This lesson can be used with The United States: An Open Ended History, a free online textbook.  Adapted in part from open sources.

Each settlement in colonial America had its own identity and reason for being, whether that reason was economic, religious, or social, or some blend of the three – and they were all usually intensely competitive with their neighbors in these aims. Imagine that you are a representative from what we would today call that colony’s “Welcome Center,” trying to attract new settlers. These didn’t exist in the 1600s, per se, but if they did, what kind of ad campaign might they have created to lure settlers to their colony?

Create a comprehensive, informational commercial. You can act it out or record it and play it back.

You are responsible for creating a factually robust and informative presentation – that is also persuasive.  It may be filmed, but only if your recorded volume is loud enough for the class to hear and understand.  It may also be performed live.  Be sure to illustrate each segment with stimulating visuals.

Students should also be creative in their commercial while remaining historically accurate. 

Your commercial should be between one and two minutes in length.

The following features must be in the commercial—

  1. Map of your colony circa the 17th century
  2. Geography: description of land, sights, and climate
  3. People that settlers will encounter
  4. Occupations: How will settlers support themselves? What kind of work will they find?
  5. Mentions of history: When and why was the colony founded? (up to about 1700)
  6. Food: What will the travelers eat? What foods are native to the area?
  7. Transportation: How will the travelers get to the colony? How will they travel around the colony?  What are the major transportation routes and hubs in your colony?
  8. Religion: What churches have been established in the colony, or what are the practices of the indigenous people?  What religious groups are banned?
  9. Persuasion: Be sure to encourage settlers to travel and stay in the colony – why here and not a different colony?

Use at least one of the following…  The seven most common techniques of propaganda used in advertising:

  • Testimonial – The ever-popular celebrity endorsement.
  • Glittering Generalities – Praise and positive words that are hard to measure or quantify – think “best,” “great,” “I’m lovin’ it.”
  • Transfer – The qualities of the product transfer to the consumer – think of a sports car or soda commercial.  You, too, can be cool, if you have the right cell phone.
  • Plain Folks – An appeal to values, working class, family, nationalism, thrift – “Made in America,” “fair trade,” “real men,” or “the best value for your dollar.”
  • Bandwagon – Everybody’s doing it – don’t be left out or left behind!
  • Name Calling – Trash talking or put downs toward the competition.
  • Card Stacking – The omission of inconvenient or unflattering facts about your own product; the emphasis of those same kind of facts when talking about competing products.

For inspiration (see if you can spot the techniques listed above in action): 

Hawaii Chair.

Americans will buy ANYTHING 4! Top 10 Worst Infomercials.

The Evolution of the Virginia Laws of Servitude and Slavery (1643-1691)

This lesson can be used with The United States: An Open Ended History, a free online textbook.  Adapted in part from open sources.

Virginia laws of servitude and slavery (1643-1691): These laws attempted to set boundaries between different categories of people in Virginia.

  1. In your own words, briefly summarize what each law is saying.
  2. What categories of people are described in these laws?  Note especially when the category of a “white” person was invented, as well as words used to describe people of European descent before its first use. 
  3. According to these laws, how does a child become a slave?
  4. By 1691, is there a such thing as a free black person legally living in Virginia?
  5. Was there a “white” before there was slavery?  What does this evidence seem to suggest about race in America – did it occur naturally or was it invented?

March 1643

Whereas there are divers loytering runaways in the collony who very often absent themselves from their masters service, And sometimes in two or three monthes cannot be found, whereby their said masters are at great charge in finding them, And many times even to the loss of their year’s labour before they be had, Be it therefore enacted and confirmed that all runaways that shall absent themselves from their said masters service shall be lyable to make satisfaction by service at the end of their tymes by indenture double the tyme of service soe neglected, And in some cases more if the comissioners for the place appointed shall find it requisite and convenient. And if such runaways shall be found to transgresse the second time or oftener (if it shall be duely proved against them) that then they shall be branded in the cheek with the letter R. and passe under the statute of incorrigible rogues.

December 1662

WHEREAS some doubts have arrisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a negro woman should be slave or ffree, Be it therefore enacted and declared by this present grand assembly, that all children borne in this country shalbe held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother, And that if any christian shall committ ffornication with a negro man or woman, hee or shee soe offending shall pay double the ffines imposed by the former act.

September 1667

WHEREAS some doubts have risen whether children that are slaves by birth, and by the charity and piety of their owners made pertakers of the blessed sacrament of baptisme, should by vertue of their baptisme be made ffree; It is enacted and declared by this grand assembly, and the authority thereof, that the conferring of baptisme doth not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or ffreedome; that diverse masters, ffreed from this doubt, may more carefully endeavour the propagation of christianity by permitting children, though slaves, or those of greater growth if capable to be admitted to that sacrament.

virginian-luxuries-1810
Virginian Luxuries, a painting by an anonymous artist, 1810.

October 1670

WHEREAS it hath beene questioned whither Indians or negroes manumited, or otherwise free, could be capable of purchasing christian servants, It is enacted that noe negroe or Indian though baptised and enjoyned their owne ffreedome shall be capable of any such purchase of christians, but yet not debarred from buying any of their owne nation.

June 1680

WHEREAS the frequent meeting of considerbale numbers of negroe slaves under pretence of feasts and burialls is judged of dangerous consequence; for prevention whereof for the future, Bee it enacted by the kings most excellent majestie by and with the consent of the generall assembly, and it is hereby enacted by the authority foresaid, that from and after the publication of this law, it shall not be lawfull for any negroe or other slave to carry or arme himselfe with any club, staffe, gunn, sword or any other weapon of defence or offence, nor to goe or depart from of his masters ground without a certificate from his master, mistris or overseer and such permission not to be granted but upon perticuler and necessary occasions; and every negroe or slave soe offending not haveing a certificate as aforesaid shalbe sent to the next constable, who is hereby enjoyned and required to give the said negroe twenty lashes on his bare back well layd on, and soe sent home to his said master, mistris or overseer. And it is further enacted by the authority aforesaid that if any negroe or other slave shall presume to lift up his hand in opposition against any christian, shall for every such offence, upon due proofe made thereof by the oath of the party before a magistrate, have and receive thirty lashes on his bare back well laid on. And it is hereby further enacted by the authority aforesaid that if any negroe or other slave shall absent himself from his masters service and lye hid and lurking in obscure places, comitting injuries to the inhabitants, and shall resist any person or persons that shalby any lawfull authority by imployed to apprehend and take the said negroe, that then in case of such resistance, it shalbe lawfull for such person or persons to kill the said negroe or slave soe lying out and resisting, and that this law be once every six months published at the respective county courts and parish churches within this colony.

3-tobacco-plantation-granger

April 1691

And for prevention of that abominable mixture and spurious issue which hereafter may encrease in this dominion, as well by negroes, mulattoes, and Indians intermarrying with English, or other white women, as by their unlawfull accompanying with one another, Be it enacted by the authoritie aforesaid, and it is hereby enacted, that for the time to come, whatsoever English or other white man or woman being free shall intermarry with a negroe, mulatto, or Indian man or woman bond or free shall within three months after such marriage be banished and removed from this dominion forever, and that the justices of each respective countie within this dominion make it their perticular care that this act be put in effectuall execution. And be it further enacted by the authoritie aforesaid, and it is hereby enacted, That if any English woman being free shall have a bastard child by any negro or mulatto, she pay the sume of fifteen pounds sterling, within one moneth after such bastard child be born, to the Church wardens of the parish where she shall be delivered of such child, and in default of such payment she shall be taken into the possession of the said Church wardens and disposed of for five yeares, and the said fine of fifteen pounds, or whatever the woman shall be disposed of for, shall be paid, one third part to their majesties for and towards the support of the government and the contingent charges thereof, and one other third part to the use of the parish where the offence is committed, and the other third part to the informer, and that such bastard child be bound out as a servant by the said Church wardens untill he or she shall attaine the age of thirty yeares, and in case such English woman that shall have such bastard child be a servant, she shall be sold by the said church wardens, (after her time is expired that she ought by law to serve her master) for five yeares, and the money she shall be sold for divided as is before appointed, and the child to serve as
aforesaid.

And forasmuch as great inconveniences may happen to this country by the setting of negroes and mulattoes free, by their either entertaining negro slaves from their masters service, or receiveing stolen goods, or being grown old bringing a charge upon the country; for prevention thereof, Be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, and it is hereby enacted, That no negro or mulatto be after the end of this present session of assembly set free by any person or persons whatsoever, unless such person or persons, their heires, executors or administrators pay for the transportation of such negro or negroes out of the countrey within six moneths after such setting them free, upon penalty of paying of tenn pounds sterling to the Church wardens of the parish where such person shall dwell with, which money, or so much thereof as shall be necessary, the said Church wardens are to cause the said negro or mulatto to be transported out of the countrey, and the remainder of the said money to imploy to the use of the poor of the parish.

 

The United States: An Open Ended History

The United States: An Open Ended History is a free online history textbook adapted and expanded upon from open sources.  Its chapters are designed to address most state standards, splitting the difference between overarching themes, concise summary, and the kinds of vivid, personal details that make history memorable to the average student.  Please use and share freely – to supplement or replace what you have at hand.

One – A Not So-Distant Past: Native America (Until 1600)
  1. North America’s First People
  2. The Pristine Myth: How Native Americans Shaped Their World
  3. A Collision of Worlds: The Legacy of Columbus
Two – A New World: Colonial America (1600 – 1754)
  1. Jamestown: English Settlers in the Land of the Powhatan
  2. Massachusetts: Church and State in the Land of the Wampanoag
  3. An Overview of the English Colonies in America
  4. The Origins of Servitude and Slavery in Colonial America
Three – Common Sense and Independence: The Revolutionary Era (1754 – 1788)
  1. Join, or Die: The French and Indian War
  2. Agitation, Taxation, and Representation by Other Means
  3. The Shot Heard Round the World, Common Sense, and Independence
  4. The Revolutionary War: With a Little Help from our Friends
  5. A New Nation in Crisis: Shays Rebellion and the U.S. Under the Articles
  6. The Constitution: A Second Draft of American Democracy
Four – A More Perfect Union: The Early Republic (1788-1824)
  1. President Washington and the Origins of Party Politics
  2. Adams, Jefferson, and Competing Visions for the New Republic
  3. Foreign Adventures in the New Republic
  4. The Era of Good Feelings and Others Who Were Not So Lucky
Five – New Frontiers: Economic, Social, and Westward Expansion (1824-1850)
  1. Andrew Jackson, For and Against the Common Man
  2. I Will Not Retreat a Single Inch: Reformers Make Themselves Heard
  3. Manifest Destiny, Westward Expansion, and the Conquest of Mexico
Six – The Gathering Storm: Sectionalism and a Nation in Crisis (1850-1865)
  1. Sectionalism in the Fractured 1850s
  2. A Nation Divided Against Itself
  3. To Break Our Bonds of Affection: The Coming of the Civil War
  4. Gettysburg to Appomattox and Beyond: A New Birth of Freedom?
Appendix – Student Activities

THIS UNIT WAS INDEPENDENTLY FINANCED BY OPENENDEDSOCIALSTUDIES.ORG.

If you value the free resources we offer, please consider making a modest contribution to keep this site going and growing.


Ideas for Teaching About Nicaragua

Openendedsocialstudies has a unit for teaching middle or high school classrooms about the history of Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, and controversial leader Daniel Ortega.  Find free readings, guided questions, and lesson plan ideas on the following subjects:

  • A Basic History of Nicaragua: A basic overview of Nicaraguan history and culture through the end of the modern period, with a focus on the post-colonial period.
  • William Walker, the Grey-Eyed Man of Destiny: William Walker was an American  who organized several private military expeditions into Latin America with the intention of establishing English-speaking colonies under his personal control, an enterprise then known as “filibustering.”
  • Augusto Sandino, National Hero: From 1927 until 1933, Gen. Augusto César Sandino led a sustained guerrilla war first against the Conservative regime and subsequently against the U.S. Marines, whom he fought for over five years. He was referred to as a “bandit” by the United States government; his exploits made him a hero throughout much of Latin America, where he became a symbol of resistance to United States’ domination.
  • The Sandinistas: The Sandinista National Liberation Front – also called the Sandinistas – are a former guerrilla army and ruling party of Nicaragua. Following a decade of single party rule, they submitted to free and fair elections in 1990, ushering in Nicaragua’s current period of period of peace, democratic stability, and relative prosperity after decades of corrupt dictatorship, civil war, and domination by the U.S. and its corporations.

One great way for students to develop a deeper understanding of a concept is to have them teach others.

  1. Choose any section from this unit and develop a lesson – in the form of a presentation, a storybook, or a worksheet – that teaches younger students about some aspect of Nicaragua’s history.  Make sure the material is age appropriate in content and approach, and create some simple questions to check your audience’s understanding.

Find more free lessons on Nicaragua at Openendsocialstudies.org.  

There are also plenty of free lessons featuring other peoples from world history.

“The Goal of Capitalism:” Soviet Anti-American Propaganda

Examine the Soviet propaganda posters on this page and answer the following questions.

  1. What were the primary Soviet critiques of the United States, and what symbols did these posters use to communicate them?
  2. Do you find any of this criticism of the United States convincing?
  3. Is there value in studying a rival’s propaganda against your own country?
  4. Is there danger in studying a rival’s propaganda against your own country?
  5. Propaganda like this shaped the Soviet people’s view of the United States. Imagine you are an American – how would you explain the criticisms leveled in these posters to a Soviet citizen?
  6. Often, the qualities we criticize in others reveal something about how we see ourselves.  What do Soviet criticisms about the United States reveal about their own national self-image?
“Orchestra.” E. Gelms, 1953.
Dollar
“Dollar.” E. Gelms, 1953.
Peace
“Peace.” E. Gelms, 1953.
According to the Old Fascist Road
“According to the Old Fascist Road.” V, Briskin, 1953.
The Goal of Capitalism
“The Goal of Capitalism.” B. Semenov, 1953.
US Diplomats
“U.S. Diplomats.” V. Briskin, 1953.
Washington's Pigeon
“Washington’s Pigeon.” B. Efimov, 1953.
In the Soviet Union - in the United States
“In the Soviet Union – in the United States.” V. Briskin / M. Ivanov, 1953.
Soviet anti-American posters. Friendship, American - style. Soviet poster,
“Friendship, American-style.” V. Briskin, 1954.
Freedom Is Not for the People
“Freedom is not for the People.” K. Vladimirov, 1957.
US Deputy Career
“U.S. Deputy Career.” V. Slychenko, 1958.
Remember Hiroshima
“Remember Hiroshima.” B. Prorokhov, 1959.
Georgiev
“Untitled.” K. Georgiev, 1963.
First Lesson
“First Lesson.” K. Georgiev, 1964.
Stop the Killers
“Stop the Killers.” E. Arcrunyan, 1965.
Jail
“Jail.” V. Koretsky / Y. Kershin, 1968.
In the Concrete Jungle
“In the Concrete Jungle.” A. Zhitomirsky, 1970.
American Freedom - 70
“American ‘Freedom – 70.'” B. Efimov, 1970.

The Birth of Huitzilopochtli and the Mexica World – A Comic Book Lesson

 

The Birth of Huitzilopochtli and the Mexica World

This lesson was reported from:

The Mexica – more commonly known in the English-speaking world as the Aztec – are today remembered as fierce warriors, conquerors of a great Mesoamerican empire still in ascendancy when the Spanish arrived to upset the balance of power in Central America.  The Mexica themselves were upstarts in the chaotic and ever-shifting world of central Mexico some five hundred years ago. Until the early 1400s, they were an unremarkable and put-upon faction among the Nahua, the larger linguistic and cultural group to which the Mexica belonged.

Through a stunning reversal (to be covered in future issues) the Mexica came to dominate the Nahua world.  Though they had once toiled in the mud to pay their mightier neighbors humble tribute, within the space of a single generation – and under the direction of a great warrior and politician named Tlacaelel – the Mexica now commanded a tributary empire of their own, the likes of which ancient Mexico had never seen.  In this newly constituted Mexica empire, people were taught to remember their place in the strict social hierarchy, which extended from the lowliest laborers all the way up to the emperor Tlacaelel and beyond.

This was a time and place in which a people’s particular gods were thought to demand a cut of any good fortune, from a harvest to the spoils of war – for services rendered, as benefactors to the lowly tribes of mortal men who depended on such gods for their very survival.  Like all of the Nahua people, the Mexica believed that the current world – existence as we know it, which they referred to as the Fifth Sun – would end in violence and destruction, just as the gods’ previous four doomed attempts at creation had ended.

It was the new emperor Tlacaelel who credited the god Huitzilopochtli, long their patron, with the meteoric rise of the Mexica people.  In a sweeping reformation of the traditional Nahua religion befitting the stunning realignment of power in the Nahua world, Tlacaelel elevated Huitzilopochtli to the same level as other ancient gods such as Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc.

Huitzilopochtli became of the Mexica god of war, sun, human sacrifice, and the patron of their grand capital city Tenochtitlan.  Every day, relentlessly and without mercy, Huitzilopochtli – in his role as the life-giving sun and champion of the Mexica people – vanquished the abyssal night that threatened to consume the world.  The daily sunrise was viewed as another victory in the celestial war against darkness, the moon (Coyolxauhqui), and the stars (centzon huitznahua).

But his success was no foregone conclusion.  Under Tlacaelel, the Mexica came to believe that it was their duty and obligation to give strength to Huitzilopochtli and thereby postpone the end of the Fifth Sun.  This favorable outcome could only be ensured through the sacrificial offering of human blood.

This blood came in two main ways.  First, on a daily basis priests and the Mexica emperor himself would prick themselves ritually with tiny cactus needles, driven into their own ears, tongues, and chests.  Second, and most spectacularly, on sacred festival days during the year, humans were sacrificed on the Templo Mayor in the ritual center of Tenochtitlan, their beating hearts extracted from their living bodies by expert priests using sharp obsidian knives, before their heads were decapitated in a ritual patterned on Huitzilopochtli’s murder of his sister, Coyolxauhqui.

For the Mexica, war and the empire they gained through conquest was an important source not just of material wealth, but of human tribute to be offered up in this way to Huitzilopochtli.  For this reason, the capture of prisoners of war was typically prized over the killing of enemies in battle. Similarly, in addition to the material wealth paid annually to the Mexica by conquered peoples – quetzal feathers, gold, chocolate, coffee, seashells, and other valuable commodities – the Mexica typically required a set number of human offerings to be sent to Tenochtitlan from subject nations.  

The pyramid-shaped Templo Mayor at the center of Tenochtitlan was a symbolic representation of the mountain of Coatepec, where, according to Mexica myth, Huitzilopochtli was born.  Here, Huitzilopochtli had emerged from his mother Coatlicue fully grown and fully armed to battle his sister Coyolxauhqui and her brothers the Centzon Huitznahua who intended to kill him and their mother. Huitzilopochtli was victorious, slaying and dismembering his sister. Her body was then thrown to the bottom of the hill.   

Just as Huitzilopochtli triumphed at the top of the mountain while his sister was dismembered and fell to pieces below, so Huitzilopochtli’s temple and icon sat triumphantly at the top of the Templo Mayor while a carving of the dismembered goddess lay far below at the pyramid’s base.  Nearby, a large skull rack held the decapitated heads of hundreds of sacrificial victims, recalling the way Coyolxuaqui’s head had been cast into the sky and remained on display as the moon.

When the Mexica sacrificed people to Huitzilopochtli, the victim would be placed on a sacrificial stone at the summit of the Templo Mayor. The priest would then cut through the abdomen with an obsidian or flint blade rivaling a modern surgical knife in sharpness. The heart would be torn out – still beating – and held towards the sky in honor to Huitzilopochtli.  The body would be carried away, down the steep steps of the temple, and either cremated or given to the warrior responsible for the capture of the victim.  This warrior might then cut the body in pieces and send them to important people as an offering, or use the pieces for ritual cannibalism. The warrior would thus ascend one step in the hierarchy of the Mexica social classes, a system that most keenly rewarded successful warriors.  

Who knows?  If that warrior were successful enough in battle – bringing back to Tenochtitlan enough captives for sacrifice at the Templo Mayorhe might be inducted into such knightly orders as the Jaguars or the Eagles.  He would then know true honor and prestige.

For he had played a part in saving the world; keeping it spinning upon its axis; in ensuring that the sun would rise another day.  It is tempting to call the Mexica brutal, and maybe it is true that in the name of Huitzilopochtli they relished war and reveled in the shedding of blood… Would it have been nobler to let the Fifth Sun – the very world as we know it – come to some cataclysmic end?  

Knowing that you could have prevented the end of life on Earth – and failing to act, whether from weakness, or squeamishness, or dereliction of duty – that would have been the true definition of brutality.

Most great civilizations have an organizing myth – a story they tell themselves to explain their way of life.  For example, in the modern United States, Americans tell themselves that their country exists as a selfless champion of democracy – as maybe the best thing that has ever happened to the world, even if the cost preserving that democracy is violence and war.  For the Mexica, if their civilization did not conquer and sacrifice in the name of the sun god Huitzilopochtli, the world itself would come shuddering to an end.

Thus, the story of Huitzilopochtli became one of the driving beliefs of Mexica civilization.  This powerful imperative gave rise to one of the great Native American civilizations, the mighty Mexica Empire, who used it to rationalize their dramatic rise and dominance over their neighbors in Central Mexico.  

But that’s a story for next issue…

Activities

 

  1. For discussion and research: What are some of the stories associated with the founding and history of your country?  Find out which ones are based on fact, and which ones are based in myth? Are the myths ever presented as fact in your society?  To school children? Why would myths be represented as truth? Who would benefit from this misrepresentation?
  2. Research and plan a realistic one week travel itinerary in and around modern day Mexico City that focuses specifically on its Mexica, pre-Mexica, and colonial histories.  Explain the historical or cultural relevance of your choices. Present the final itinerary with photos and estimated costs for the whole trip.
  3. Create an illustrated glossary of English loan words from Nahuatl, the language of the Mexica.  Consider the following questions: Why have these particular words come over into English and not others?  Examine the history of this language in general – where did the written form of this language come from? Is Nahuatl still spoken, and if so, by whom?
  4. Create a short comic book illustrating a story of one of the Mexican gods such as Quetzalcoatl or Huitzilopochtli.  Much of what we know about life in Tenochtitlan comes from the so-called Aztec Codices. These are heavily or entirely illustrated works – in a sense, similar to modern comic books – dating from before and just after contact with the Spanish in the 16th century.  Study the lush, colorful art in these codices and try to imitate this style in your retelling. Consider the following questions: How does this fit in with what I’ve already learned about Mexica culture and belief? How does this story compare with the myths and legends of other world cultures?