Gettysburg to Appomattox and Beyond: A New Birth of Freedom?

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. Based on his words in the Gettysburg Address and his second Inaugural Address, what purpose did Lincoln see in the Civil War?
  2. Why did Sherman march to the sea?
  3. What did the Freedman’s Bureau do?
  4. What were Black Codes?
  5. What do the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments do?

Gettysburg

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The fighting at Gettysburg was ferocious, as if Lee knew this was his last chance to take the war to the North. After the battle, Lee led his army on a torturous retreat back to Virginia. Between 46,000 and 51,000 soldiers from both armies were casualties in the three-day battle, the most costly in US history.

During the Civil War, the Confederate Army under Robert E. Lee scored numerous tactical victories.  Like his distant relation George Washington who was over-matched by the British during the Revolutionary War, Lee was most skilled at ensuring that no single Confederate defeat was decisive. On the other hand, the much more populous Union simply mustered new armies and tried again after each battle. Believing that the North’s crushing defeat at Chancellorsville gave him his chance to go on the offensive, Lee struck northward into Pennsylvania at the beginning of July 1863, almost reaching the state capital at Harrisburg. A strong Union force intercepted him at Gettysburg, where, in a titanic three‑day battle—the largest of the Civil War—the Confederates made a valiant effort to break the Union lines. They failed, and on July 4 Lee’s army, after crippling losses, retreated behind the Potomac.  The Battle of Gettysburg would be the last serious Southern offensive of the war.  From that time onward, the war was entirely defensive on their part.

More than 3,000 Union soldiers and almost 4,000 Confederates died at Gettysburg; wounded and missing totaled more than 20,000 on each side. On November 19, 1863, Lincoln dedicated a new national cemetery there with perhaps the most famous address in U.S. history, his so-called Gettysburg Address, running approximately 250 words.  This speech elevated the symbolic meaning of the war, serving as a reaffirmation of the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln speak of “a new birth of freedom” – a second chance to actually live up to the promise that all men are created equal, not in Jefferson’s limited sense of those words, but in a more modern sense that you and I would recognize:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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A crowd of citizens and soldiers gather around Abraham Lincoln (indicated with a red arrow) as he delivers his Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.

Unconditional Surrender

On the Mississippi, Union control had been blocked at Vicksburg, where the Confederates had strongly fortified themselves on bluffs too high for naval attack. In early 1863 Grant began to move below and around Vicksburg, subjecting it to a six‑week siege. On July 4, he captured the town, together with the strongest Confederate Army in the West. The river was now entirely in Union hands. The Confederacy was broken in two, and it became almost impossible to bring supplies from Texas and Arkansas.

The Northern victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg in July 1863 marked the turning point of the war, although the bloodshed continued unabated for more than a year-and-a-half.

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Lincoln brought Grant east and made him commander-in-chief of all Union forces. In May 1864 Grant advanced deep into Virginia and met Lee’s Confederate Army in the three-day Battle of the Wilderness. Losses on both sides were heavy, but unlike other Union commanders, Grant refused to retreat.

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Sherman’s men destroying a railroad in Atlanta.

In the West, Union forces gained control of Tennessee in the fall of 1863 with victories at Chattanooga and nearby Lookout Mountain, opening the way for General William T. Sherman to invade Georgia – his so-called March to the Sea. Sherman outmaneuvered several smaller Confederate armies, occupied the state capital of Atlanta, then marched to the Atlantic coast, systematically destroying railroads, factories, warehouses, and other facilities in his path. He also liberated slaves under the authority of the Emancipation Proclamation – all of this reduced Southern capacity to feed and supply itself and brought the destruction of war to its homefront.  Sherman said, “I will make Georgia howl!” His men, cut off from their normal supply lines, ravaged the countryside for food. From the coast, Sherman marched northward; by February 1865, he had taken Charleston, South Carolina, where the first shots of the Civil War had been fired. Sherman, more than any other Union general, understood that destroying the will and morale of the South was as important as defeating its armies.

With Malice Toward None

For the North, the war produced a still greater hero in Abraham Lincoln—a man eager, above all else, to weld the Union together again, not by force and repression but by warmth and generosity. In 1864 he had been elected for a second term as president, defeating his Democratic opponent, George McClellan, the general he had dismissed after Antietam.

At a time when victory over secessionists in the American Civil War was within days and slavery in all of the Union was near an end, Lincoln did not speak of happiness, but of sadness.  He sought to avoid harsh treatment of the defeated South by reminding his listeners of how wrong both sides had been in imagining what lay before them when the war began four years earlier.  Lincoln balanced that rejection of triumphalism, however, with recognition of the unmistakable evil of slavery, envisioning the war as the nation’s penance.  Lincoln’s second inaugural address closed with these words:

“Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether”. With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Peace at Last

Grant, meanwhile, lay siege to Petersburg, Virginia for nine months, before Lee, in March 1865, knew that he had to abandon both Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond in an attempt to retreat south. But it was too late. On April 9, 1865, surrounded by huge Union armies, Lee surrendered to Grant at the town of Appomattox Courthouse. Although scattered fighting continued elsewhere for several months, the Civil War was over.

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Wilmer McLean was an American wholesale grocer from Virginia. His house near Manassas, Virginia, was involved in the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861. After the battle he moved to Appomattox, Virginia, to escape the war thinking that it would be safe. Instead, in 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in McLean’s house in Appomattox. His houses were, therefore, involved in one of the first and one of the last encounters of the American Civil War.

The terms of surrender at Appomattox were magnanimous, and on his return from his meeting with Lee, Grant quieted the noisy demonstrations of his soldiers by reminding them: “The rebels are our countrymen again.” The war for Southern independence had become the “lost cause,” whose hero, Robert E. Lee, had won wide admiration through the brilliance of his leadership and his greatness in defeat.

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The United Daughters of the Confederacy helped promulgate the Lost Cause’s ideology – that the Civil War was an honorable struggle for the Southern way of life while minimizing or denying the central role of slavery – through the construction of numerous memorials, such as this one in Tennessee.

Two days after Lee’s surrender, Lincoln delivered his last public address, in which he unfolded a generous reconstruction policy. On April 14, 1865, the president held what was to be his last Cabinet meeting. That evening—with his wife and a young couple who were his guests—he attended a performance at Ford’s Theater. There, as he sat in the presidential box, he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Virginia actor embittered by the South’s defeat. Booth was killed in a shootout two weeks later in a barn in the Virginia countryside. His accomplices were captured and later executed.

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John Wilkes Booth leaning forward to shoot President Abraham Lincoln as he watches Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. on April 14,1865. Moments later Booth would leap from the balcony onto the stage, yelling to the audience in Latin, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (“Thus always to tyrants”)

Lincoln died in a downstairs bedroom of a house across the street from Ford’s Theater on the morning of April 15.

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Military units marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. during the state funeral for Abraham Lincoln on April 19, 1865. After the April 14, 1865 assassination of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, a three-week series of events mourned his death and memorialized his life. Funeral services and lyings in state were held in Washington, D.C., and then in additional cities as a funeral train transported his remains for burial in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.

Reconstruction

The first great task confronting the victorious North—now under the leadership of Lincoln’s vice president, Andrew Johnson, a Southerner who remained loyal to the Union—was to determine the status of the states that had seceded. Lincoln had already set the stage. In his view, the people of the Southern states had never legally seceded; they had been misled by some disloyal citizens into a defiance of federal authority. And since the war was the act of individuals, the federal government would have to deal with these individuals and not with the states. Thus, in 1863 Lincoln proclaimed that if in any state 10 percent of the voters of record in 1860 would form a government loyal to the U.S. Constitution and would acknowledge obedience to the laws of the Congress and the proclamations of the president, he would recognize the government so created as the state’s legal government.

Congress rejected this plan. Many Republicans feared it would simply entrench former rebels in power; they challenged Lincoln’s right to deal with the rebel states without consultation. Some members of Congress advocated severe punishment for all the seceded states; others simply felt the war would have been in vain if the old Southern establishment was restored to power. Yet even before the war was wholly over, new governments had been set up in Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

To deal with one of its major concerns—the condition of former slaves—Congress established the Freedmen’s Bureau in March 1865 to act as guardian over African Americans and guide them toward self-support. And in December of that year, Congress ratified the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which banned slavery except as punishment for a crime.

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An 1866 poster attacking the Freedmen’s Bureau for giving recently freed slaves what some whites considered to be unfair advantages. The Freedmen’s Bureau aided these freed slaves, who had no education, savings, or property after their sudden freedom from a lifetime of servitude, by providing them with food, clothing, and shelter on a temporary basis as they were liberated. The Bureau also helped African Americans find family members from whom they had become separated during the war. It arranged to teach them to read and write since they had been denied these skills while enslaved. The Bureau also encouraged former major planters to rebuild their plantations and urged freed blacks to return to work for them.

Throughout the summer of 1865 Johnson proceeded to carry out Lincoln’s reconstruction program, with minor modifications. By presidential proclamation he appointed a governor for each of the former Confederate states and freely restored political rights to many Southerners through use of presidential pardons.

In due time conventions were held in each of the former Confederate states to repeal the ordinances of secession and draft new state constitutions. Johnson called upon each convention to invalidate the secession, free all slaves within their borders, and ratify the 13th Amendment.

Wide public support in the North gradually developed for those members of Congress who believed that African Americans should be given full citizenship. Congress passed a 14th Amendment to the Constitution, stating that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” This repudiated the Dred Scott ruling, which had denied slaves their right of citizenship.

All the Southern state legislatures, with the exception of Tennessee, refused to ratify the amendment, some voting against it unanimously. In addition, Southern state legislatures passed “Black Codes” to regulate the African-American freedmen. The codes differed from state to state, but some provisions were common. African Americans across the South were required to enter into annual labor contracts with white landowners, often their former masters, with penalties of jail imposed in case of violation; children were subject to compulsory apprenticeship and corporal punishments by masters; vagrants could be sold into private service if they could not pay severe fines.

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The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866 by six former officers of the Confederate army as a secret vigilante group, the Klan targeted freedmen and their allies; it sought to restore white supremacy by threats and violence, including murder, against black and white Republicans.

Many Northerners interpreted the Southern response as an attempt to reestablish slavery and repudiate the hard-won Union victory in the Civil War. It did not help that Johnson, although a Unionist, was a Southern Democrat with an addiction to intemperate rhetoric and an aversion to political compromise. Republicans swept the congressional elections of 1866. Firmly in power, the Radicals imposed their own vision of Reconstruction.

In the Reconstruction Act of March 1867, Congress, ignoring the governments that had been established in the Southern states, divided the South into five military districts, each administered by a Union general. Escape from permanent military government was open to those states that established civil governments, ratified the 14th Amendment, and adopted African-American suffrage. Supporters of the Confederacy who had not taken oaths of loyalty to the United States generally could not vote. The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. The 15th Amendment, passed by Congress the following year and ratified in 1870 by state legislatures, provided that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

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Freedmen voting in New Orleans, 1867.  Black Codes and violence would soon suppress the black vote, ending scenes like this, and ensuring that, despite the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, the old white masters remained firmly in control of the South.  

The word slavery would die with the 13th Amendment, but the practice would continue – barely altered – using tools like Black Codes, tenant farming, debt, segregation, lynching, police intimidation, mass incarceration, and other forms of extralegal violence well into the 1960s and beyond.  Slavery had ended, but institutional racism would live on into the modern day.

The article was adapted in part from:

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

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

A Nation Divided Against Itself

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 is Uncle Tom’s Cabin and why is it significant?
  2. Who is Stephen Douglas, and how do his plans lead to the Kansas-Nebraska Act?
  3. What is the key issue that unites the early Republican Party?
  4. What is “Bleeding Kansas?”
  5. What decision does the Supreme Court reach in the Dred Scott case?
  6. Citing specific examples, how do John Brown’s methods differ from those of other abolitionists?

A Divided Nation

During the 1850s, the issue of slavery severed the political bonds that had held the United States together. It ate away at the country’s two great political parties, the Whigs and the Democrats, destroying the first and irrevocably dividing the second. It produced weak presidents whose irresolution mirrored that of their parties. It eventually discredited even the Supreme Court.

The moral fervor of abolitionist feeling grew steadily. In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel provoked by the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. More than 300,000 copies were sold the first year. Presses ran day and night to keep up with the demand. Although sentimental and full of stereotypes, Uncle Tom’s Cabin portrayed with undeniable force the cruelty of slavery and posited a fundamental conflict between free and slave societies. It inspired widespread enthusiasm for the antislavery cause, appealing as it did to basic human emotions—indignation at injustice and pity for the helpless individuals exposed to ruthless exploitation.

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Full page illustration from the first edition Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which depicted the brutality of slavery in unflinching terms – imagine if Harry Potter carried a social message.

In 1854 the issue of slavery in the territories was renewed and the quarrel became more bitter. The region that now comprises Kansas and Nebraska was being rapidly settled, increasing pressure for the establishment of territorial, and eventually, state governments.

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Thomas Hart Benton, Senator from Missouri and opponent of the Kansas-Nebraska Act – “What is the excuse for all this turmoil and mischief? We are told it is to keep the question of slavery out of Congress! Great God! It was out of Congress, completely, entirely, and forever out of Congress, unless Congress dragged it in by breaking down the sacred laws which settled it!”

Under terms of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the entire region was closed to slavery. Dominant slave-holding elements in Missouri objected to letting Kansas become a free territory, for their state would then have three free-soil neighbors (Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas) and might be forced to become a free state as well. Their congressional delegation, backed by Southerners, blocked all efforts to organize the region.

At this point, Stephen A. Douglas enraged all free-soil supporters. Douglas argued that the Compromise of 1850, having left Utah and New Mexico free to resolve the slavery issue for themselves, superseded the Missouri Compromise. His plan called for two territories, Kansas and Nebraska. It permitted settlers to carry slaves into them and eventually to determine whether they should enter the Union as free or slave states.

Douglas’s opponents accused him of currying favor with the South in order to gain the presidency in 1856. The free-soil movement, which had seemed to be in decline, reemerged with greater momentum than ever. Yet in May 1854, Douglas’s plan, in the form of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, passed Congress to be signed by President Franklin Pierce. Southern enthusiasts celebrated with cannon fire. But when Douglas subsequently visited Chicago to speak in his own defense, the ships in the harbor lowered their flags to half-mast, the church bells tolled for an hour, and a crowd of 10,000 hooted so loudly that he could not make himself heard.

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Stephen A. Douglas, Democratic Senator from Illinois, explaining popular sovereignty and his Kansas-Nebraska Act – “The great principle of self government is at stake, and surely the people of this country are never going to decide that the principle upon which our whole republican system rests is vicious and wrong.”

The immediate results of Douglas’s ill-starred measure were momentous. The Whig Party, which had avoided taking a strong stand on the question of slavery expansion, sank to its death, and in its stead a powerful new organization arose in the North – the Republican Party, whose primary demand was that slavery be excluded from all the territories. In 1856, it nominated John Fremont, whose expeditions into the Far West had won him renown. Fremont lost the election, but the new party swept a great part of the North. Such free-soil leaders as Salmon P. Chase and William Seward exerted greater influence than ever. Along with them appeared a tall, lanky Illinois attorney, Abraham Lincoln.

Meanwhile, the flow of both Southern slave holders and antislavery families into Kansas resulted in armed conflict. Each hoped to win popular sovereignty at the ballot box when it came to vote on the question of slavery, but this potent mix of those with the most passionate pro- and antislavery – the people who cared enough about the issue to move halfway across the country to influence a vote on the matter – meant that soon the territory was being called Bleeding Kansas.  A simmering, low-intensity civil war had erupted that would continue for years – the federal government seemed powerless to stop the tit-for-tat violence between free-soilers and proslavery forces.

In May 1856, Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts took to the floor to denounce the threat of slavery in Kansas and humiliate its supporters. He had devoted his enormous energies to the destruction of what Republicans called the Slave Power, that is the efforts of slave owners to take control of the federal government and ensure the survival and expansion of slavery. In the speech (called “The Crime against Kansas”) Sumner ridiculed the honor of elderly South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, portraying Butler’s pro-slavery agenda towards Kansas with the raping of a virgin and characterizing his affection for it in sexual and revolting terms. The next day, Butler’s cousin, the South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, nearly killed Sumner on the Senate floor with a heavy cane. The action electrified the nation, brought violence to the floor of the Senate, and deepened the North-South split.

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Lithograph of Preston Brooks’ 1856 attack on Sumner; the artist depicts the faceless assailant bludgeoning Sumner.

The violence continued to increase. Abolitionist John Brown – who believed that God himself had commanded his holy mission – led his sons and other followers to plan the murder of settlers who spoke in favor of slavery. At a proslavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24, the group seized five pro-slavery men from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords. Brown and his men escaped and began plotting a full-scale slave insurrection with financial support from Boston abolitionists.

In the two years prior to the Pottawatomie Creek massacre, there had been eight killings in Kansas Territory attributable to slavery politics, but none in the vicinity of the massacre. The massacre was the match in the powderkeg that precipitated the bloodiest period in “Bleeding Kansas” history, a three-month period of retaliatory raids and battles in which 29 people died.

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John Brown was dissatisfied with the pacifism of the organized abolitionist movement: “These men are all talk. What we need is action—action!” In May 1856, Brown and his supporters killed five supporters of slavery in the Pottawatomie massacre. Brown’s actions as an abolitionist and the tactics he used still make him a controversial figure today. He is both memorialized as a heroic martyr and visionary, and vilified as a madman and a terrorist.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act had other horrifying consequences.  Prior to the organization of the Kansas–Nebraska territory in 1854, the Kansas and Nebraska Territories were consolidated as part of the Indian Territory. Throughout the 1830s, large-scale relocations of Native American tribes to the Indian Territory took place, with many Southeastern nations removed to present-day Oklahoma, a process ordered by the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and known as the Trail of Tears, and many Midwestern nations removed by way of treaty to present-day Kansas.  The passing of the Kansas–Nebraska Act came into direct conflict with the relocations as white American settlers from both the free-soil North and pro-slavery South flooded lands promised by treaty to these Native American groups.  Once again, they were forced by squatting settlers and the U.S. government – through violence, uneven treaties, and forced land sales – to surrender their homes for the second time in as many generations, with many groups moving south into present-day Oklahoma.

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Dred Scott (c. 1799 – September 17, 1858) was an enslaved African American man in the United States who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom and that of his wife and their two daughters in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case of 1857, popularly known as the “Dred Scott case.” Scott claimed that he and his wife should be granted their freedom because they had lived in Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory for four years, where slavery was illegal.

Then the Supreme Court struck another blow against the antislavery movement with its infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision.

Scott was a Missouri slave who, some 20 years earlier, had been taken by his master to live in Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory; in both places, slavery was banned. Returning to Missouri and becoming discontented with his life there, Scott sued for liberation on the ground of his residence on free soil. A majority of the Supreme Court—dominated by Southerners—decided that Scott lacked standing in court because he was not a citizen; that the laws of a free state (Illinois) had no effect on his status because he was the resident of a slave state (Missouri); and that slave holders had the right to take their “property” anywhere in the federal territories. Thus, Congress could not restrict the expansion of slavery – in effect, slavery was now legal everywhere.

Lincoln, Douglas, and Brown

In 1858 Abraham Lincoln, a fierce critic of the expansion of slavery, opposed Stephen A. Douglas for election to the U.S. Senate from Illinois. In the first paragraph of his opening campaign speech, on June 17, Lincoln struck the keynote of American history for the seven years to follow:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided.”

Lincoln and Douglas engaged in a series of seven debates in the ensuing months of 1858. Senator Douglas, known as the “Little Giant,” had an enviable reputation as an orator, but he met his match in Lincoln, who eloquently challenged Douglas’s concept of popular sovereignty. In the end, Douglas won the election by a small margin, but Lincoln had achieved stature as a national figure.

By then events were spinning out of control. On the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown and his sons made their next divinely-inspired move, leading a band of followers in an attack on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry (in what is now West Virginia). Brown’s goal was to use the weapons seized to lead a slave uprising – creating a vast army that would liberate the South.

Initially, the raid went well, and they met no resistance entering the town. They cut the telegraph wires and easily captured the armory, which was being defended by a single watchman.

800px-John_brown_interior_engine_house.jpgNews of the raid reached Baltimore early that morning and Washington by late morning. In the meantime, local farmers, shopkeepers, and militia pinned down the raiders in the armory by firing from the heights behind the town. Some of the local men were shot by Brown’s men. At noon, a company of militia seized the bridge, blocking the only escape route. Brown then moved his prisoners and remaining raiders into the engine house, a small brick building at the armory’s entrance. He had the doors and windows barred and loopholes cut through the brick walls. The surrounding forces barraged the engine house, and the men inside fired back with occasional fury.

After two days of fighting, Brown and his surviving men were taken prisoner by a force of U.S. Marines commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee.

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A modern reproduction of the 1848 fire engine house that became known as John Brown’s Fort, c. 2007.

Virginia put Brown on trial for conspiracy, treason, and murder. On December 2, 1859, he was hanged. Although most Northerners had initially condemned him, increasing numbers were coming to accept his view that he had been an instrument in the hand of God.  Brown’s attempt confirmed the worst fears of many Southerners. Antislavery activists, on the other hand, generally hailed Brown as a martyr to a great cause.

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On the day of his execution, Brown wrote his last testament, which said, “I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done.”

The 1860 Election

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Lincoln in 1858, the year of his debates with Stephen Douglas over slavery. A few weeks before Lincoln was elected President of the United States, an eleven year-old girl sent him a letter urging him to grow a beard, writing, “All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”
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The results of the 1860 election.

In 1860 the Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln as its candidate for president. The Republican platform declared that slavery could spread no farther, promised a tariff for the protection of industry, and pledged the enactment of a law granting free homesteads to settlers who would help in the opening of the West. Southern Democrats, unwilling in the wake of the Dred Scott case to accept Douglas’s popular sovereignty, split from the party and nominated Vice President John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky for president. Stephen A. Douglas was the nominee of northern Democrats. Diehard Whigs from the border states, formed into the Constitutional Union Party, nominated John C. Bell of Tennessee.

Sectionalism had officially divided presidential politics to the point of no return.  Lincoln and Douglas competed in the North, Breckenridge and Bell in the South. Lincoln won only 39 percent of the popular vote, but thanks to the larger population of the North, swollen from decades of immigration and urbanization driven by its rapid industrialization, this was enough.  The Republican platform had won a clear majority of 180 electoral votes, carrying all 18 free states. Despite minimal support in the South, Lincoln was now president, a party hostile to slavery was in control of the nation.

As long as there was a single nation to control.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny
  2. Sectional Conflict
  3. John Brown

Foreign Adventures in the New Republic

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 did the Alien and Sedition Acts do? (Name at least two things)
  2. How did Madison and Jefferson respond?
  3. What happened in the case of Marbury v Madison?
  4. What factors caused the use of slavery to increase in the early 1800s?
  5. Why did Jefferson purchase Louisiana?

Growing Conflict with Britain

As Jefferson began his second term in 1805, he declared American neutrality in the struggle between Great Britain and France. Although both sides sought to restrict neutral shipping to the other, British control of the seas made its interdiction and seizure much more serious than any actions by Napoleonic France. British naval commanders routinely searched American ships, seized vessels and cargoes, and took off sailors believed to be British subjects. They also frequently impressed American seamen into their service.

When Jefferson issued a proclamation ordering British warships to leave U.S. territorial waters, the British reacted by impressing more sailors. Jefferson then decided to rely on economic pressure; in December 1807 Congress passed the Embargo Act, forbidding all foreign commerce. The law required strong police authority that vastly increased the powers of the national government. Economically, it was disastrous. In a single year American exports fell to one-fifth of their former volume. Shipping interests were almost ruined by the measure; discontent rose in New England and New York. Agricultural interests suffered heavily also. Prices dropped drastically when the Southern and Western farmers could not export their surplus grain, cotton, meat, and tobacco.

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A political cartoon showing merchants dodging the “Ograbme”, which is “Embargo” spelled backwards. The embargo was also ridiculed in the New England press as Dambargo, Mob-Rage, or Go-bar-’em. The tortoise here represents the supposed solution to a problem that actually comes back to “bite you in the butt.”

The embargo failed to starve Great Britain into a change of policy. As the grumbling at home increased, Jefferson turned to a milder measure, which partially conciliated domestic shipping interests. In early 1809 he signed the Non-Intercourse Act permitting commerce with all countries except Britain or France and their dependencies.

James Madison succeeded Jefferson as president in 1809. Relations with Great Britain grew worse, and the two countries moved rapidly toward war. The president laid before Congress a detailed report, showing several thousand instances in which the British had impressed American citizens. In addition, northwestern settlers had suffered from attacks by Indians whom they believed had been incited by British agents in Canada. In turn, many Americans favored conquest of Canada and the elimination of British influence in North America, as well as vengeance for impressment and commercial repression. By 1812, war fervor was dominant. On June 18, the United States declared war on Britain.

The War of 1812

The nation went to war bitterly divided. While the South and West favored the conflict, New York and New England opposed it because it interfered with their commerce. The U.S. military was weak. The army had fewer than 7,000 regular soldiers, distributed in widely scattered posts along the coast, near the Canadian border, and in the remote interior. The state militias were poorly trained and undisciplined.

Hostilities began with an invasion of Canada, which, if properly timed and executed, would have brought united action against Montreal. Instead, the entire campaign miscarried and ended with the British occupation of Detroit. The U.S. Navy, however, scored successes. In addition, American privateers, swarming the Atlantic, captured 500 British vessels during the fall and winter months of 1812 and 1813.

The campaign of 1813 centered on Lake Erie. General William Henry Harrison—who would later become president—led an army of militia, volunteers, and regulars from Kentucky with the object of reconquering Detroit. On September 12, while he was still in upper Ohio, news reached him that Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry had annihilated the British fleet on Lake Erie. Harrison occupied Detroit and pushed into Canada, defeating the fleeing British and their Indian allies on the Thames River. The entire region now came under American control.

The British fleet harassed the Eastern seaboard with orders to “destroy and lay waste.” On the night of August 24, 1814, an expeditionary force routed American militia, marched to Washington, D.C., and left the city in flames. President James Madison fled to Virginia.

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The White House ruins after the conflagration of August 24, 1814.

Take a tour of the White House of today, rebuilt, remodeled, and expanded.

The British moved on to their major target, the heavily fortified major city of Baltimore. The British naval guns, mortars and new “Congreve rockets” had a longer range than the American cannon onshore. The ships mostly stood out of range of the Americans, who returned very little fire.  All the lights were extinguished in Baltimore the night of the attack, and the fort was bombarded for 25 hours. The only light was given off by the exploding shells over Fort McHenry, which defended the city, illuminating the flag that was still flying over the fort. The sight inspired the American lawyer Francis Scott Key to write “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” a poem that was later set to music as “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

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An artist’s rendering of the bombardment at Fort McHenry. Francis Scott Key watched from a U.S. truce ship and was inspired to write the four-stanza poem he originally titled “The Defence of Fort McHenry”. The poem was later set to music and named “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which was adopted as the national anthem in 1931.

Native Americans During the War of 1812

In years leading up to and during the War of 1812, Native Americans continued to resist American expansion into their territories.  Native groups made alliances with either the British or the Americans during the war in an attempt to advance their own goals or improve their own situations.  As a result,

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Tecumseh.

Tecumseh was a Shawnee warrior and chief, who became the primary leader of a large, multi-tribal confederacy in the early 19th century. Born in the Ohio Country (present-day Ohio), and growing up during the American Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War, Tecumseh was exposed to warfare and envisioned the establishment of an independent Indian nation east of the Mississippi River under British protection. He worked to recruit additional members to his tribal confederacy from the southern United States.

Tecumseh was among the most celebrated Indian leaders in history and was known as a strong and eloquent orator who promoted tribal unity. He was also ambitious, willing to take risks, and make significant sacrifices to repel the Americans from Indian lands in the Old Northwest Territory. In 1808, with his brother Tenskwatawa (“The Prophet”), Tecumseh founded the Indian village the Americans called Prophetstown, located north of present-day Lafayette, Indiana. Prophetstown grew into a large, multi-tribal community and a central point in Tecumseh’s political and military alliance.

Tecumseh’s confederation fought the United States during Tecumseh’s War, but he was unsuccessful in getting the U.S. government to rescind the Treaty of Fort Wayne (1809) and other land-cession treaties which stripped natives of their claims to their ancestral homelands. In 1811, as he traveled south to recruit more allies, his brother Tenskwatawa initiated the Battle of Tippecanoe against William Henry Harrison’s army, but the Indians retreated from the field and the Americans burned Prophetstown. Although Tecumseh remained the military leader of the pan-Indian confederation, his plan to enlarge the Indian alliance was never fulfilled.

Tecumseh and his confederacy continued to fight the United States after forming an alliance with Great Britain in the War of 1812. During the war, Tecumseh’s confederacy helped in the capture of Fort Detroit. However, after U.S. naval forces took control of Lake Erie in 1813, the British and their Indian allies retreated into Upper Canada, where the American forces engaged them at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813, where Tecumseh was killed. His death and the end of the war caused the pan-Indian alliance to collapse. Within a few years, the remaining tribal lands in the Old Northwest were ceded to the U.S. government and subsequently opened for new settlement and most of the American Indians eventually moved west, across the Mississippi River. Since his death Tecumseh has become an iconic folk hero in American, Aboriginal, and Canadian history.

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Death of Tecumseh, Frieze of the United States Capitol rotunda.

Further south, the British began aiding the Creek Indians in modern day Alabama and Georgia. In March 1814, General Andrew Jackson and General John Coffee led a force comprised of about 2,000 Tennessee militiamen, Choctaw, Cherokee, and U.S. regulars in a war against the Creek Indians. Out of 1,000 Creeks, led by Chief Menawa, 800 were killed at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Only 49 of Jackson’s forces were killed. Jackson pursued the remaining Creeks until they surrendered, ultimately signing the Treaty of Fort Jackson, which limited their territory and independence.

The Treaty of Ghent

British and American negotiators conducted talks in Europe. The British envoys decided to concede, however, when they learned of Macdonough’s victory on Lake Champlain. Faced with the depletion of the British treasury due in large part to the heavy costs of the Napoleonic Wars, the negotiators for Great Britain accepted the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814. It provided for the cessation of hostilities, the restoration of conquests, and a commission to settle boundary disputes. Unaware that a peace treaty had been signed, the two sides continued fighting into 1815 near New Orleans, Louisiana. Led by General Andrew Jackson, the United States scored the greatest land victory of the war in the Battle of New Orleans, ending for once and for all any British hopes of reestablishing continental influence south of the Canadian border.

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Andrew Jackson’s unlikely victory against a superior British force at the Battle of New Orleans came in January 1815, weeks after the official end of the war. It turned him into a household name.

While the British and Americans were negotiating a settlement, Federalist delegates selected by the legislatures of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire gathered in Hartford, Connecticut to express opposition to “Mr. Madison’s war.” New England had managed to trade with the enemy throughout the conflict, and some areas actually prospered from this commerce. Nevertheless, the Federalists claimed that the war was ruining the economy. With a possibility of secession from the Union in the background, the Hartford Convention proposed a series of constitutional amendments that would protect New England interests. Instead, the end of the war, punctuated by the smashing victory at New Orleans, stamped the Federalists with a stigma of disloyalty from which they never recovered.  The Federalists’ opposition to the War of 1812 and the Hartford Convention had terminally damaged the party.

The First Seminole War

In Southern Georgia, Chief Neamathla of the Miccosukee tribe – part of the larger Seminole cultural group – at Fowltown was engaged in a land dispute with General Edmund Pendleton Gaines, the American commander at Fort Scott. The land had been ceded by the Creek at the Treaty of Fort Jackson. However, the Miccosukee considered itself a different tribe. It held that the Creek did not have right to cede Miccosukee land. In November 1817, a force of 250 men was sent by General Gaines to capture Neamathla, but was driven back. A second attempt in the same month succeeded, and the Miccosukee were driven from Fowltown.

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A modern depiction of a classic Seminole village.

A week after the attack on Fowltown, a military boat transporting supplies, sick soldiers, and the families of soldiers to Fort Scott (it is not clear if children were on board) was attacked on the Apalachicola River. Most of the passengers on board were killed, with one woman captured and six survivors making it to Fort Scott.

General Gaines had been ordered not to invade Spanish Florida save for small incursions. After word of the Scott massacre reached Washington, DC, Gaines was ordered to invade Spanish-colonized Florida in pursuit of Seminoles, but not to attack Spanish installations. However, Gaines had been ordered to eastern Florida to deal with piracy issues there, so Secretary of War John C. Calhoun ordered General Andrew Jackson to lead the invasion.

General Jackson gathered his forces at Fort Scott in March 1818. His fighters were 800 regulars, 1,000 Tennessee volunteers, 1,000 Georgia militia, and 1,400 friendly Creek warriors. Jackson’s force entered Florida on March 13, following the Apalachicola River and constructing Fort Gadsden. The Indian town of Tallahassee was burned on March 31 and the town of Miccosukee was taken the next day. The American and Creek forces left 300 Indian homes devastated in their wake, reaching and capturing the Spanish fort of St. Marks on April 6.

765228024The American force left St. Marks and continued to attack Indian villages. It captured Alexander George Arbuthnot, a Scottish trader who worked out of the Bahamas and supplied the Indians, and Robert Ambrister, a former Royal Marine and self-appointed British agent, as well as the Indian leaders Josiah Francis and Homathlemico. All four were eventually executed. Jackson’s forces also attacked villages occupied by runaway slaves along the Suwannee River.

Having declared victory, Jackson sent the Georgia militia and Creek warriors home, sending the remaining army back to St. Marks, where he left a garrison before returning to Fort Gadsden. On May 7, he marched a force of 1,000 to Pensacola where he believed the Indians were gathering and being supplied by the Spanish. The governor of West Florida raised a protest, insisting that the Indians there were mostly women and children. When Jackson reached Pensacola on May 23, the governor and the Spanish garrison retreated to Fort Barrancas. After a day of exchanging cannon fire, the Spanish surrendered.

The governments of Great Britain and Spain both expressed outrage over the invasion. However, Spain was unable to defend or control the territory, as several local uprisings and rebellions made clear. The Spanish Crown agreed to cede Florida to the United States per the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819, and the transfer took place in 1821.

The Monroe Doctrine

On December 2, 1823, President Monroe introduced the most famous aspect of his foreign policy in his State of the Union Address to Congress. The Monroe Doctrine, as it came to be called, stated that any further attempts by European powers to interfere in the affairs of the nations of the Western hemisphere (namely Latin America) would be seen as an act of aggression against the United States, requiring a U.S. response. The Monroe Doctrine came about as a result of U.S. and British fears the Spain would attempt to restore its power over former colonies in Latin America. President Monroe essentially sent notice the Americas, both North and South, were no longer open to colonization by European powers.

The fact that the U.S. was still a young nation with very little naval power meant that the warning went largely ignored by the major powers. Despite this, the British approved of the policy and largely enforced it as part of the Pax Britannica, whereby the British Navy secured the neutrality of the high seas. It was mainly through this support, rather than the Monroe Doctrine exclusively, which secured and maintained the sovereignty of Latin American nations.

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The United States would invoke the Monroe Doctrine repeatedly through the next century, as reflected from this cartoon from around the year 1900.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. The Formation of a National Government
  2. Tecumseh

Adams, Jefferson, and Competing Visions for the New Republic

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 did the Alien and Sedition Acts do? (Name at least two things)
  2. How did Madison and Jefferson respond?
  3. What happened in the case of Marbury v Madison?
  4. What factors caused the use of slavery to increase in the early 1800s?
  5. Why did Jefferson purchase Louisiana?

The Adams Presidency

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John Adams, 2nd President of the United States.

Washington announced his retirement in 1796, firmly declining to serve for more than eight years as the nation’s head. Thomas Jefferson of Virginia (Republican) and John Adams (Federalist) vied to succeed him. Adams won a narrow election victory.

Adams faced serious international difficulties. France, at war with Britain and angered by the fact that the U.S. refused to cut off ties with Britain, began to seize American merchant ships there. By 1797 France had snatched 300 American ships and broken off diplomatic relations with the United States. When Adams sent three commissioners to Paris to negotiate, agents of Foreign Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand (whom Adams labeled X, Y, and Z in his report to Congress) informed the Americans that negotiations could only begin if the United States loaned France $12 million and bribed officials of the French government. American hostility to France rose to an excited pitch. Federalists called for war.

These events – the so-called XYZ Affair – led to the strengthening of the fledgling U.S. Armies and Navy.Congress authorized the acquisition of twelve frigates, and made other appropriations to increase military readiness. Despite calls for a formal war declaration, Adams remembered Washington’s farewell address, which warned against getting involved in European conflict, and steadfastly refused to ask Congress for one.

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A political cartoon depicts the XYZ Affair – America is a female being plundered by Frenchmen. (1798)

In 1799, after a series of sea battles with the French, war seemed inevitable. In this crisis, Adams rejected the guidance of Hamilton, who wanted war, and reopened negotiations with France. Napoleon, who had just come to power, received them cordially. The danger of conflict subsided with the negotiation of the Convention of 1800, which formally released the United States from its 1778 defense alliance with France. However, reflecting American weakness, France refused to pay $20 million in compensation for American ships taken by the French Navy.

Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800
Vice President Thomas Jefferson actively worked against his own president, arguing that states had the right to nullify or ignore those federal laws with which they disagreed.

Hostility to France led the Federalist controlled Congress to pass the Alien and Sedition Acts, which had severe repercussions for American civil liberties. The Naturalization Act, which changed the requirement for citizenship from five to 14 years, was targeted at Irish and French immigrants suspected of supporting the Republicans. The Alien Act, operative for two years only, gave the president the power to expel or imprison aliens in time of war. The Sedition Act forbid writing, speaking, or publishing anything of “a false, scandalous, and malicious” nature against the president or Congress. The few convictions won under it created martyrs to the cause of civil liberties and aroused support for the Republicans.

The acts met with resistance. Jefferson – Adams’s own vice-president – and James Madison sponsored the passage of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions by the legislatures of these two states in November and December 1798. As extreme declarations of states’ rights, the resolutions asserted that states could ignore federal actions if they disagreed with them.  This concept of nullification would be used later for the Southern states’ resistance to protective tariffs (favored by the North), and, more ominously, slavery.

Industry and Slavery

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A Roberts loom in a weaving shed in 1835. Textiles were the leading industry of the Industrial Revolution and mechanized factories, powered by a central water wheel or steam engine, were the new workplace.

In the 1790s certain New England weavers began building large, automated looms, driven by water power. To house them they created the first American factories. Working the looms required less skill and more speed than household laborers could provide. The looms needed people brought to them; and they also required laborers who did not know the origin of the word sabotage. These factories sought out young women.

The factory owners said they wanted to hire these women just for a few years, with the ideal being that they could raise a dowry for their wedding. They were carefully supervised, with their time laid out for them. Some mill owners created evening classes to teach these women how to write and how to organize a household.

The factories provided a cheaper source of cotton cloth, sent out on ships and on roads improved by a stronger government. For the first time some people could afford more than two outfits, work and Sunday best. They also provided an outlet for cotton from the slave states in the South. Cotton was at that time one among many crops. Many slaves had to work to separate cotton from the seeds of the cotton plant, and to ship it to cloth-hungry New England. This was made simpler by Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793. Cotton became a profitable crop, and many Southern farms now made it their only crop. Growing and picking cotton was long, difficult labor, and the Southern plantation made it the work for slaves. Northern factories became part of the economy of slavery.

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Two slaves operate one of Eli Whitney’s cotton gins. Whitney invented his cotton gin in 1793. He began to work on this project after moving to Georgia in search of work. Whitney created two cotton gins: a small one that could be hand-cranked and a large one that could be driven by a horse or water power. Thanks to the cotton gin, the production of raw cotton doubled each decade after 1800.

This renewed reliance on slavery went against the trend in other parts of the country. Vermont had prohibited slavery in its state constitution in 1777. Pennsylvania passed laws for the gradual abolition of the condition in 1780, and New York State in 1799. Education, resources, and economic development created the beginnings of industrialization in many Northern states and plantations and slavery and less development in states in the Deep South.

The Election of 1800

By 1800 the American people were ready for a change. Under Washington and Adams, the Federalists had established a strong government, but sometimes they had followed policies that alienated large groups. For example, in 1798 they had enacted a tax on houses, land, and slaves, affecting every property owner in the country.

The campaign of 1800 was bitter – Jefferson’s allies suggested that President Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”  Adams’s supporters called Vice President Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”  The two men didn’t speak to each other for another decade.

The Constitution originally called for the individual with the most votes in an election to become President, and for the runner-up to become Vice President. George Washington, who had approved of this system, had justified it by the belief that it worked against factionalism in political parties. However, it had already resulted in the alienation of Vice President Thomas Jefferson under the Adams administration.

In 1800, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr ran against Adams and his running mate. The two Republican candidates would have preferred for Jefferson to become President and Burr to become Vice President. But the Electoral College vote was tied between the two of them. The Federalist-controlled House of Representatives was called upon to chose between them. It had to vote thirty-six times before Jefferson was chosen to be President, and then only with the reluctant agreement of Alexander Hamilton – to stop Burr, who had refused to concede the presidency to Jefferson as planned. Congress later approved a Constitutional amendment allowing for separate balloting for President and Vice President in the Electoral College.

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Vice President Aaron Burr bore a grudge against Hamilton for this. In 1804, when the two ran for Governor of New York, they dueled, and Burr killed Hamilton.

In Jefferson’s inaugural address, the first such speech in the new capital of Washington, D.C., he promised “a wise and frugal government” that would preserve order among the inhabitants but leave people “otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry, and improvement.”  He also spoke of reconciliation after the bitter campaign saying, “We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

Marbury v. Madison

On March 2, 1801, just two days before his presidential term was to end, Adams nominated nearly 60 Federalist supporters to circuit judge and justice of the peace positions the Federalist-controlled Congress had newly created. These appointees—whom Jefferson’s supporters derisively referred to as “the Midnight Judges”—included William Marbury, an ardent Federalist and a vigorous supporter of the Adams presidency.

On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson was sworn in and became the 3rd President of the United States. As soon as he was able, Jefferson instructed his new Secretary of State, James Madison, to withhold the undelivered appointments. In Jefferson’s opinion, the commissions were void because they had not been delivered in time.  Without the commissions, the appointees were unable to assume the offices and duties to which they had been appointed. In December 1801, Marbury filed suit against Madison in the Supreme Court, asking the Court to force Madison to deliver Marbury’s commission. This lawsuit resulted in the case of Marbury v. Madison.

The Court did not order Madison to comply. Marshall examined the law Congress had passed that gave the Supreme Court jurisdiction over types of cases like Marbury’s, and found that it had expanded the definition of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction beyond what was originally set down in the U.S. Constitution. Marshall then struck down the law. This is the origin of the concept of judicial review – the idea that American courts have the power to strike down laws or actions of the government found to violate the Constitution.  If the Supreme Court has a super power, it is this, and they discovered it here.

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Inscription on the wall of the Supreme Court Building from Marbury v. Madison, in which Chief Justice John Marshall outlined the concept of judicial review.

The Louisiana Purchase

One of Jefferson’s acts doubled the area of the country. At the end of the Seven Years’ War, France had ceded its territory west of the Mississippi River to Spain. Access to the port of New Orleans near its mouth was vital for the shipment of American products from the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys. Shortly after Jefferson became president, Napoleon forced a weak Spanish government to cede this great tract, the Louisiana Territory, back to France. The move filled Americans with apprehension and indignation. French plans for a huge colonial empire just west of the United States seriously threatened the future development of the United States. Jefferson asserted that if France took possession of Louisiana, “from that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation.”

Napoleon, however, lost interest after the French were expelled from Haiti by a slave revolt. Knowing that another war with Great Britain was impending, he resolved to fill his treasury and put Louisiana beyond the reach of Britain by selling it to the United States. His offer presented Jefferson with a dilemma: The Constitution conferred no explicit power to purchase territory. At first the president wanted to propose an amendment, but delay might lead Napoleon to change his mind. Advised that the power to purchase territory was an implied power, suggested by the enumerated power to make treaties, Jefferson relented, saying that “the good sense of our country will correct the evil of loose construction when it shall produce ill effects.”

All of this sidestepped the question of whether this land was France’s to sell in the first place – barely any of it was occupied by French people let alone the French army.  Instead, it was filled with millions of Native Americans living across hundreds of independent tribes, most of whom had likely never heard of France or the United States.

The United States obtained the “Louisiana Purchase” for $15 million in 1803. It contained more than 2,600,000 square kilometers as well as the port of New Orleans. Once the natives who occupied it had been conquered and removed, the nation would gain a sweep of rich plains, mountains, forests, and river systems that within 80 years would become its heartland—and a breadbasket for the world.

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The 1803 Louisiana Purchase totaled 827,987 square miles (2,144,480 square kilometers), doubling the size of the United States.

Jefferson commissioned the  Lewis and Clark Expedition (1) to explore and map the newly acquired territory, (2) to find a practical route across the western half of the continent, and (3) to establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it. The campaign’s secondary objectives were scientific and economic: (4) to study the area’s plants, animal life, and geography, and (5) to establish trade with local American Indian tribes.

From May 1804 to September 1806, the Corps of Discovery under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend Second Lieutenant William Clark, was the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States. Also along for the mission was York, Clark’s slave, who who carried a gun and hunted on behalf of the expedition and was also accorded a vote during group decisions, more than half a century before African Americans could actually participate in American democracy.  Along the way, the Corps picked up they met a French-Canadian fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau, and his teenage Shoshone wife Sacagawea, who had purchased as a slave and who was pregnant with their child.  The Shoshone lived in the Rocky Mountains, and Sacagawea’s knowledge of nature, geography, language, and culture proved to be invaluable to the expedition.

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Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia depicts the meeting between the Corps of Discovery and the Chinook people on the Lower Columbia River in October 1805.  Sacagawea is depicted with arms outstretched.

The Corps met their objective of reaching the Pacific, mapping, and establishing their presence for a legal claim to the land. They established diplomatic relations and trade with at least two dozen indigenous nations. They did not find a continuous waterway to the Pacific Ocean (mostly because one does not exist!) but located an Indian trail that led from the upper end of the Missouri River to the Columbia River which ran to the Pacific Ocean. They gained information about the natural habitat, flora and fauna, bringing back various plant, seed and mineral specimens. They mapped the topography of the land, designating the location of mountain ranges, rivers and the many Indian tribes during the course of their journey. They also learned and recorded much about the language and customs of the American Indian tribes they encountered, and brought back many of their artifacts, including bows, clothing and ceremonial robes.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. The Formation of a National Government
  2. The Early Years of the Republic
  3. The Lewis and Clark Expedition

President Washington and the Origins of Party Politics

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. Name one presidential tradition that originated with George Washington.
  2. How did the Federalists differ from the Democratic-Republicans?
  3. What was the Compromise of 1790?
  4. Describe one American reaction to the events of the French Revolution.
  5. Compare and contrast the government response to Shays’ Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion.

President Washington

One of the last acts of the Congress of the Confederation was to arrange for the first presidential election, setting March 4, 1789, as the date that the new government would come into being. One name was on everyone’s lips for the new chief of state—George Washington. He was unanimously chosen president and took the oath of office at his inauguration on April 30, 1789. In words spoken by every president since, Washington pledged to execute the duties of the presidency faithfully and, to the best of his ability, to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

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George Washington’s inauguration as the first President of the United States which took place in New York City on April 30, 1789.

When Washington took office, the new Constitution enjoyed neither tradition nor the full backing of organized public opinion. The new government had to create its own machinery and legislate a system of taxation that would support it. Until a judiciary could be established, laws could not be enforced. The army was small. The navy had ceased to exist.

Congress quickly created the departments of State and Treasury, with Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton as their respective secretaries. Departments of War and Justice were also created. Since Washington preferred to make decisions only after consulting those men whose judgment he valued, the American presidential Cabinet came into existence, consisting of the heads of all the departments that Congress might create. Simultaneously, Congress provided for a federal judiciary—a Supreme Court, with one chief justice and five associate justices, three circuit courts, and 13 district courts.

Meanwhile, the country was growing steadily and immigration from Europe was increasing. Americans were moving westward: New Englanders and Pennsylvanians into Ohio; Virginians and Carolinians into Kentucky and Tennessee. Good farms were to be had for small sums; labor was in strong demand. The rich valley stretches of upper New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia soon became great wheat-growing areas.

Although many items were still homemade, the Industrial Revolution was dawning in the United States. Massachusetts and Rhode Island were laying the foundation of important textile industries; Connecticut was beginning to turn out tinware and clocks; New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were producing paper, glass, and iron. Shipping had grown to such an extent that on the seas the United States was second only to Britain. Even before 1790, American ships were traveling to China to sell furs and bring back tea, spices, and silk.

Washington’s two-term administration set many policies and traditions that survive today. He was again unanimously elected in 1792. But after his second term expired, Washington again voluntarily relinquished power, thereby establishing an important precedent that was to serve as an example for the United States and also for other future republics. Washington also abjured titles. He didn’t want to be called “Your Excellency” or “Your Majesty.” He insisted on being called “Mr. President,” and referred to as “The President of the United States”. Because of his central role in the founding of the United States, Washington is often called the “Father of his Country.” Scholars rank him with Abraham Lincoln among the greatest of United States presidents.

Hamilton vs. Jefferson: Strong or Weak Central Government?

Over the course of Washington’s two terms as president, rivalries arose between his closest advisers, particularly between Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Out of these developments evolved two new political parties: The Federalists, who shared the same name as the earlier pro-ratification party, and the Democratic-Republican Party, also known as the Jeffersonian party, or as the Anti-Federalists.

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Federalists used a black and white cockade as a symbol.

Led by Alexander Hamilton, the Federalists represented the interests of trade and manufacturing, which they saw as forces of progress in the world. They believed these could be advanced only by a strong central government capable of establishing sound public credit and a stable currency. Openly distrustful of the latent radicalism of the masses, they could nonetheless credibly appeal to workers and artisans. Their political stronghold was in the New England states. Seeing England as an example the United States should try to emulate, they favored good relations with their former mother country.

The Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson, spoke primarily for agricultural interests and values. They distrusted bankers, cared little for commerce and manufacturing, and believed that freedom and democracy flourished best in a rural society composed of self-sufficient farmers. They felt little need for a strong central government; in fact, they tended to see it as a potential source of oppression. Thus they favored states’ rights. They were strongest in the South and in the West.

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Republicans used a red, white, and blue cockade as a symbol.

The conflict between the Federalist party and the Democratic-Republican party can be seen in the debate on how to pay off Revolutionary War debts. Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists wanted to put state debts and federal debts into one huge national debt. The Treasury would issue bonds that rich people would buy, thereby giving the rich a tangible stake in the success of the national government.  When the new federal government had succeeded in paying off this debt, it would increase confidence in the stability of the central government, encouraging foreign governments to loan money to the U.S. Hamilton also proposed a National Bank to help stabilize the national economy. This private Bank of the United States would serve as a place to put the government’s money, increasing central financial power and economic control.

Jefferson did not agree with Hamilton’s idea of a national bank. Jefferson’s faction envisioned an America more similar to ancient Athens or pre-Imperial Rome, with independent farming households following their own interests and nurturing liberty. Jefferson believed America should teach people to be self-sufficient farmers, and he wanted the federal government to stop interfering in state matters. In the end, in what came to be known as the Compromise of 1790, Jefferson agreed to Hamilton’s plan in exchange for Hamilton’s agreement to locate the government’s permanent capital in the South, on the Potomac River in what would become Washington, D.C.

The good credit established by this deal later allowed Jefferson to borrow in Europe to finance the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, as well as to borrow to finance the War of 1812.

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Jefferson and Hamilton met in private with James Madison to hammer out the deal that came to be known as the Compromise of 1790.

The French Revolution

The French Revolution broke out in 1789, a few months after the American Constitution had gone into effect. At first, as France overthrew the monarchy and declared itself a republic, many Americans supported the revolution. They believed their own revolt against England had spurred France to republicanism. But as the Reign of Terror began, and thousands of French aristocrats went to the guillotine, many Americans were shocked at the revolution’s excesses. By the mid-1790s, as France went to war against neighboring monarchies, the revolution polarized American public opinion. Federalists viewed England, France’s traditional enemy, as the bastion of stable government against a growing tide of French anarchy. Members of the emerging Democratic Republican Party, on the other hand, who took their party’s name in part from the French Republic, believed the Terror to be a temporary excess and continued to view England as the true enemy of liberty.

President Washington’s policy was neutrality. He knew that England, France, or even Spain, would be happy to eat up American resources and territory. The United States in the 1790s was still new and frail. He hoped that America could stay out of European conflicts until it was strong enough to withstand any serious foreign threat. Yet both England and France found opportunities to each use American resources against the other.

Hamilton and Jefferson clashed here as well. The former argued that the mutual defense treaty that the United States had signed with France in 1778 was no longer binding, as the French regime that had made that treaty no longer existed. The latter disagreed. But Washington sided with Hamilton, issuing a formal Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793. Washington repeated his belief in neutrality and argued against factionalism in his Farewell Address of 1796.

That same year, Citizen Edmund Charles Genêt arrived as the French minister to the United States. He soon began issuing commissions to captains of American ships who were willing to serve as privateers for France. This blatant disregard of American neutrality angered Washington, who demanded and got Genêt’s recall.

The British Royal Navy, meanwhile, began a policy of impressment – forcing ordinary sailors into military service, including sailors on American merchant ships. Many English sailors had been lured into the American merchant service by high wages and comparatively good standards of living, and England needed these sailors to man its own fleet, on which England’s national security depended. This violation of the American flag, however, infuriated Americans, as did the fact that England had not yet withdrawn its soldiers from posts in the Northwest Territory, as required by the Treaty of Paris of 1783.

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British officers inspect a group of American sailors for impressment into the British navy, ca. 1810, in a drawing by Howard Pyle. The practice angered Americans – and was left unaddressed by the Jay Treaty, angering them further.

In response, President Washington sent Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay to negotiate a treaty with England. But Jay had little leverage with which to negotiate: the final treaty did require immediate English evacuation of the frontier forts, but it said nothing about the matter of impressments. The Jay Treaty provoked an outcry among American citizens, and although the Senate ratified it narrowly, the debate it sparked was the final blow which solidified the Federalist and Republican factions into full-scale political parties, Federalists agreeing to the treaty, and Republicans viewing it as a sell-out to England (and against France).

The Whiskey Rebellion

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“Famous Whiskey Insurrection in Pennsylvania,” an 1880 illustration of a tarred and feathered tax collector being made to ride the rail.

The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 proved to be one of the most visible challenges of Washington’s time in office. The new Republic needed funds. This motivated Alexander Hamilton to press Congress to pass an excise tax on the sale of whiskey. Rural Pennsylvania farmers, who had never known a centralized American authority, were horrified by a call on what they considered their own profit and refused to pay the tax. A mob of 500 men attacked a tax collector’s house. In response, Washington and Hamilton led an army of 15,000 men to quell the rebellion, an army larger than the force Washington had commanded in the American Revolution. When the army showed up, the rebels dispersed.

In leading the militia against the Whiskey Rebellion, Washington became one of only two sitting U.S. presidents to exercise battlefield authority.
In leading the militia against the Whiskey Rebellion, Washington became one of only two sitting U.S. presidents to exercise battlefield authority.

The suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion met with widespread popular approval. This was the first time the new government had been directly opposed, and through a clear show of federal authority, Washington established the principle that federal law is the supreme law of the land, and demonstrated that the federal government had both the ability and willingness to suppress violent resistance to the nation’s laws. The government’s response to the rebellion was, therefore, viewed by the Washington administration as a success, a view that has generally been endorsed by historians.

After crushing the Whiskey Rebellion, Washington publicly blamed the Democratic-Republican Party for the rebellion, and Jefferson began to view Washington as “the head of a party” rather than “the head of a nation.” Hamilton’s followers, who coalesced into the Federalist Party, were thrilled by Washington’s remarks, and the party sought to closely associate itself with Washington.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. The Formation of a National Government
  2. The Early Years of the Republic
  3. The Whiskey Rebellion

The Constitution: A Second Draft of American Democracy

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 goal of the Constitutional Convention?
  2. Name and describe one compromise at the convention.
  3. What are checks and balances?
  4. Who were the Federalists and what did they believe?
  5. What is the Bill of Rights, and what is one right it protects?

Constitutional Convention

By the time the Northwest Ordinance was enacted, American leaders were in the midst of drafting a new and stronger constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation. Already a legend in his own lifetime, George Washington was a vocal critic of the Articles, had written accurately that the states were united only by a “rope of sand.” Disputes between Maryland and Virginia over navigation on the Potomac River led to a conference of representatives of five states at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1786. One of the delegates, Alexander Hamilton of New York, convinced his colleagues that commerce was bound up with large political and economic questions. What was required was a fundamental rethinking of the Confederation.

The Annapolis conference issued a call for all the states to appoint representatives to a convention to be held the following spring in Philadelphia. The Continental Congress was at first indignant over this bold step, but it acquiesced after Washington gave the project his backing and was elected a delegate. During the next fall and winter, elections were held in all states but Rhode Island.

A remarkable gathering of notables assembled at what came to be called the Constitutional Convention – a gathering of delegates with the goal of creating a new plan of government for the United States – in May 1787. The state legislatures sent leaders with experience in colonial and state governments, in Congress, on the bench, and in the army. Washington, regarded as the country’s first citizen because of his integrity and his military leadership during the Revolution, was chosen as presiding officer.

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The signing of the Constitution of the United States

From Pennsylvania came Benjamin Franklin, nearing the end of an extraordinary career of public service and scientific achievement. From Virginia came James Madison, a practical young statesman, a thorough student of politics and history, and, according to a colleague, “from a spirit of industry and application … the best-informed man on any point in debate.” He would be recognized as the “Father of the Constitution.”

From New York came Alexander Hamilton, who had proposed the meeting. Absent from the Convention were Thomas Jefferson, who was serving as minister representing the United States in France, and John Adams, serving in the same capacity in Great Britain. Youth predominated among the 55 delegates—the average age was 42.

Congress had authorized the Convention merely to draft amendments to the Articles of Confederation but, as Madison later wrote, the delegates, “with a manly confidence in their country,” simply threw the Articles aside and went ahead with the building of a wholly new form of government.

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Independence Hall’s Assembly Room, where the delegates worked through summer heat in 1787.

They recognized that the paramount need was to reconcile two different powers—the power of local control, which was already being exercised by the 13 semi-independent states, and the power of a central government. They adopted the principle that the functions and powers of the national government—being new, general, and inclusive—had to be carefully defined and stated, while all other functions and powers were to be understood as belonging to the states. But realizing that the central government had to have real power, the delegates also generally accepted the fact that the government should be authorized, among other things, to coin money, to regulate commerce, to declare war, and to make peace.

Debate and Compromise

The 18th-century statesmen who met in Philadelphia were adherents of Montesquieu’s concept of the separation of powers in politics. This principle was supported by colonial experience and strengthened by the writings of Montesquieu, with which most of the delegates were familiar. These influences led to the conviction that three equal and coordinate branches of government should be established. Legislative, executive, and judicial powers were to be so harmoniously balanced that no one could ever gain control. The delegates agreed that the legislative branch, like the colonial legislatures and the British Parliament, should be bicameral, consisting of two houses.

On these points there was unanimity within the assembly. But sharp differences also arose. Representatives of the small states—New Jersey, for instance—objected to changes that would reduce their influence in the national government by basing representation upon population rather than upon statehood, as was the case under the Articles of Confederation.

On the other hand, representatives of large states, like Virginia, argued for proportionate representation. This debate threatened to go on endlessly until Roger Sherman came forward with a plan that came to be known as the Great Compromise – for representation in proportion to the population of the states in one house of Congress, the House of Representatives, and equal representation in the other, the Senate.

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Quaker John Dickinson argued forcefully against slavery during the Convention. Once Delaware’s largest slaveholder, he had freed all of his slaves by 1787.

Almost every succeeding question raised new divisions, to be resolved only by new compromises. Northerners wanted slaves counted when determining each state’s tax share, but not in determining the number of seats a state would have in the House of Representatives. According to the Three-Fifths Compromise reached with little dissent, tax levies and House membership would be apportioned according to the number of free inhabitants plus three-fifths of the slaves.

Laboring through a hot Philadelphia summer, the convention finally achieved a draft incorporating in a brief document the organization of the most complex government yet devised – one which could only carry out enumerated powers, those powers listed in the Constitution. It would have full power to levy taxes, borrow money, establish uniform duties and excise taxes, coin money, regulate interstate commerce, fix weights and measures, grant patents and copyrights, set up post offices, and build post roads. It also was authorized to raise and maintain an army and navy, manage Native-American affairs, conduct foreign policy, and wage war. It could pass laws for naturalizing foreigners and controlling public lands; it could admit new states on a basis of absolute equality with the old. The power to pass all necessary and proper laws for executing these clearly defined powers rendered the federal government able to meet the needs of later generations and of a greatly expanded body politic.

The principle of separation of powers had already been given a fair trial in most state constitutions and had proved sound. Accordingly, the convention set up a governmental system with separate legislative, executive, and judiciary branches, each with powers of checks and balances to limit each other. Thus congressional enactments were not to become law until approved by the president. And the president was to submit the most important of his appointments and all his treaties to the Senate for confirmation. The president, in turn, could be impeached and removed by Congress. The judiciary was to hear all cases arising under federal laws and the Constitution; in effect, the courts were empowered to interpret both the fundamental and the statute law. But members of the judiciary, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, could also be impeached by Congress.

checks

Ratification and the Bill of Rights

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The Rising Sun Chair George Washington used during the Constitutional Convention.

On September 17, 1787, after 16 weeks of deliberation, the finished Constitution was signed by 39 of the 42 delegates present. Franklin, pointing to the half‑sun painted in brilliant gold on the back of Washington’s chair, said:

I have often in the course of the session … looked at that [chair] behind the president, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, and not a setting, sun.

The convention was over; the members “adjourned to the City Tavern, dined together, and took a cordial leave of each other.” Yet a crucial part of the struggle for a more perfect union remained to be faced. The consent of popularly elected state conventions was still required before the document could become effective.

The convention had decided that the Constitution would take effect upon ratification by conventions in nine of the 13 states. By June 1788 the required nine states had ratified the Constitution, but the large states of Virginia and New York had not. Most people felt that without their support the Constitution would never be honored. To many, the document seemed full of dangers: Would not the strong central government that it established tyrannize them, oppress them with heavy taxes, and drag them into wars?

Differing views on these questions brought into existence two parties, the Federalists, who favored a strong central government, and the Antifederalists, who preferred a loose association of separate states. Impassioned arguments on both sides were voiced by the press, the legislatures, and the state conventions.

In Virginia, the Antifederalists attacked the proposed new government by challenging the opening phrase of the Constitution: “We the People of the United States.” Without using the individual state names in the Constitution, the delegates argued, the states would not retain their separate rights or powers. Virginia Antifederalists were led by Patrick Henry, who became the chief spokesman for back-country farmers who feared the powers of the new central government. Wavering delegates were persuaded by a proposal that the Virginia convention recommend a bill of rights, and Antifederalists joined with the Federalists to ratify the Constitution on June 25.

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An advertisement for The Federalist, 1787, using the pseudonym “Philo-Publius.”

In New York, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison pushed for the ratification of the Constitution in a series of essays known as The Federalist Papers. The essays, published in New York newspapers, provided a now-classic argument for a central federal government, with separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches that checked and balanced one another. With The Federalist Papers influencing the New York delegates, the Constitution was ratified on July 26.

Fear of a strong central government was only one concern among those opposed to the Constitution; of equal concern to many was the fear that the Constitution did not protect individual rights and freedoms sufficiently. Virginian George Mason, author of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights of 1776, was one of three delegates to the Constitutional Convention who had refused to sign the final document because it did not enumerate individual rights. Together with Patrick Henry, he campaigned vigorously against ratification of the Constitution by Virginia. Indeed, five states, including Massachusetts, ratified the Constitution on the condition that such amendments be added immediately.

When the first Congress convened in New York City in September 1789, the calls for amendments protecting individual rights were virtually unanimous. Congress quickly adopted 12 such amendments; by December 1791, enough states had ratified 10 amendments to make them part of the Constitution. Collectively, they are known as the Bill of Rights. Among their provisions: freedom of speech, press, religion, and the right to assemble peacefully, protest, and demand changes (First Amendment); protection against unreasonable searches, seizures of property, and arrest (Fourth Amendment); due process of law in all criminal cases (Fifth Amendment); right to a fair and speedy trial (Sixth Amendment); protection against cruel and unusual punishment (Eighth Amendment); and provision that the people retain additional rights not listed in the Constitution (Ninth Amendment).

Since the adoption of the Bill of Rights, only 17 more amendments have been added to the Constitution. Although a number of the subsequent amendments revised the federal government’s structure and operations, most followed the precedent established by the Bill of Rights – they expanded rather than limited individual rights and freedoms, in particular to the women and people of color who had originally been excluded when Jefferson wrote the words “All men are created equal…”

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. The Formation of a National Government

The Revolutionary War: With a Little Help from our Friends

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 happened at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania?
  2. Describe one role patriot women played during the Revolutionary War.
  3. Why was French help necessary for an American victory in the war?
  4. What happened at Yorktown?
  5. What were the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1783?

Defeats and victories

Although the Americans suffered severe setbacks for months after independence was declared, their tenacity and perseverance eventually paid off. During August 1776, in the Battle of Long Island in New York, Washington’s position became untenable, and he executed a masterly retreat in small boats from Brooklyn to the Manhattan shore. British General William Howe twice hesitated and allowed the Americans to escape. By November, however, Howe had captured Fort Washington on Manhattan Island. New York City would remain under British control until the end of the war.

That December, Washington’s forces were near collapse, as supplies and promised aid failed to materialize. Howe again missed his chance to crush the Americans by deciding to wait until spring to resume fighting. On the night of December 25–26, 1776, Washington crossed the Delaware River, north of Trenton, New Jersey. In the early-morning hours of December 26, his troops surprised the British garrison there, taking more than 900 prisoners.

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Washington Crossing the Delaware commemorates General George Washington during his famous crossing of the Delaware River with the Continental Army on the night of December 25–26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War.

In September 1777, however, Howe defeated the American army at Brandywine in Pennsylvania and occupied Philadelphia, forcing the Continental Congress to flee. Washington had to endure the bitterly cold winter of 1777‑1778 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, lacking adequate food, clothing, and supplies. Local farmers and merchants exchanged their goods for British gold and silver rather than for dubious paper money issued by the Continental Congress and the states.

A reproduction hut at Valley Forge
A reproduction of a soldier’s hut at Valley Forge.

With disease and hunger rampant, Valley Forge was the lowest ebb for Washington’s Continental Army.  While the winter itself was not particularly harsh, many soldiers remained unfit for duty, owing to the lack of proper clothing and uniforms.  Years later, General Marquis de Lafayette, an early French ally to the American cause, who was present at Valley Forge, recalled that “the unfortunate soldiers were in want of everything; they had neither coats, hats, shirts, nor shoes; their feet and legs froze till they had become almost black, and it was often necessary to amputate them.”

While formal politics and warfare did not include women, ordinary domestic behaviors became charged with political significance as women confronted the Revolution. Women in the era of the Revolution were responsible for managing the household.  Halting previously everyday activities, such as drinking British tea or ordering clothes from Britain, demonstrated Colonial opposition during the years leading up to and during the war.

Patriot women continued a long tradition of weaving, and spun their own cloth to make clothing for their families. In addition to the boycotts of British textiles, the Homespun Movement served the Continental Army by producing needed clothing and blankets.

Some women were economically unable to maintain their households in their husband’s absence or wished to be by their side. Known as camp followers, these women followed the Continental Army, serving the soldiers and officers as washerwomen, cooks, nurses, seamstresses, supply scavengers, and occasionally as soldiers and spies. The women that followed the army were at times referred to as “necessary nuisances” and “baggage” by commanding officers, but at other times were widely praised. These women helped the army camps run smoothly. Prostitutes were also present, but they were a worrisome presence to military leaders particularly because of the possible spread of venereal diseases.

Wives of some of the superior officers (Martha Washington, for example) visited the camps frequently. Unlike poorer women present in the army camps, the value of these well-to-do women to the army was symbolic or spiritual, rather than practical. Their presence was a declaration that everyone made sacrifices for the war cause.

Franco-American Alliance

In France, enthusiasm for the American cause was high: The French intellectual world was itself stirring against feudalism and privilege. However, the Crown lent its support to the colonies for geopolitical rather than ideological reasons: The French government had been eager for reprisal against Britain ever since France’s defeat in 1763. To further the American cause, Benjamin Franklin was sent to Paris in 1776. His wit, guile, and intellect soon made their presence felt in the French capital, and played a major role in winning French assistance.

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Benjamin Franklin’s reception at the Court of France in 1778.

France began providing aid to the colonies in May 1776, when it sent 14 ships with war supplies to America. In fact, most of the gunpowder used by the American armies came from France. After Britain’s defeat at Saratoga, France saw an opportunity to seriously weaken its ancient enemy and restore the balance of power that had been upset by the French and Indian War. On February 6, 1778, the colonies and France signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce, in which France recognized the United States and offered trade concessions. They also signed a Treaty of Alliance, which stipulated that if France entered the war, neither country would lay down its arms until the colonies won their independence, that neither would conclude peace with Britain without the consent of the other, and that each guaranteed the other’s possessions in America. This was the only bilateral defense treaty signed by the United States or its predecessors until 1949.

The Franco-American alliance soon broadened the conflict. In June 1778 British ships fired on French vessels, and the two countries went to war. In 1779 Spain, hoping to reacquire territories taken by Britain in the Seven Years’ War, entered the conflict on the side of France, but not as an ally of the Americans. In 1780 Britain declared war on the Dutch, who had continued to trade with the Americans. The combination of these European powers, with France in the lead, was a far greater threat to Britain than the American colonies standing alone.

Surrender at Yorktown

In July 1780 France’s King Louis XVI had sent to America an expeditionary force of 6,000 men under the Comte Jean de Rochambeau. In addition, the French fleet harassed British shipping and blocked reinforcement and resupply of British forces in Virginia. French and American armies and navies, totaling 18,000 men, parried with British General Cornwallis all through the summer and into the fall.

Soldier_in_the_Continental_Army_from_1st_Rhode_Island_Regiment
Continental soldiers at Yorktown; on the left, an African-American soldier of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment.  Most blacks fought on the patriot side; recent research concludes there were about 9000 black Patriot soldiers, counting the Continental Army and Navy, and state militia units, as well as privateers, wagoneers in the Army, servants to officers, and spies.

A series of battles left Cornwallis’s armies in retreat toward Yorktown, Virginia, where they expected to be rescued by a British fleet. The fleet showed up, but so did a larger French fleet, so the British fleet retreated out to sea after a brief battle, leaving Cornwallis trapped between the American and French armies on land and the French fleet at sea. Finally, on October 19, 1781, General Cornwallis surrendered his army of 8,000 British soldiers.

The British had asked for the traditional honors of war, which would allow the army to march out with flags flying, bayonets fixed, and the band playing an American or French tune as a tribute to the victors. However, Washington firmly refused to grant the British the honors that they had denied the defeated American army the year before at the Siege of Charleston. Consequently, the British and Hessian troops marched with flags furled and muskets shouldered.

Cornwallis refused to attend the surrender ceremony, citing illness. Instead, Brigadier General Charles O’Hara led the British army onto the field. O’Hara first attempted to surrender to Rochambeau, who shook his head and pointed to Washington. O’Hara then offered his sword to Washington, who also refused and motioned to Benjamin Lincoln, his own second-in-command. The surrender finally took place when Washington’s second-in-command accepted the sword of Cornwallis’ deputy.

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Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumbull, depicts the British surrendering to Benjamin Lincoln, flanked by French (left) and American troops. Oil on canvas, 1820.

For the next year, scattered fighting continued, but back in Britain, the British were crushed by this defeat. Before long, Parliament voted to cease all offensive operations in “the colonies.”

Although Cornwallis’s defeat did not immediately end the war, a new British government decided to pursue peace negotiations in Paris in early 1782, with the American side represented by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay. Signed on September 3, 1783 the Treaty of Paris acknowledged the independence, freedom, and sovereignty of the 13 former colonies, now states. The new United States stretched west to the Mississippi River, north to Canada, and south to Florida, which was returned to Spain.

At the conclusion of the war in 1783 large numbers of loyalists and their families relocated to the home country of England and or to the still-British colony of Canada.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. The American Revolution
  2. The Road to Revolution
  3. The Road to Independence
  4. History of the United States
  5. Women in the American Revolution

Agitation, Taxation, and Representation by Other Means

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. Describe the Sugar Act, the Quartering Act, and the Stamp Act.  Why did these acts of Parliament so upset American colonists?
  2. How did American colonists resist these acts?
  3. What was the Boston Massacre? How did Paul Revere and other Sons of Liberty talk about this event?
  4. What was the Boston Tea Party?  How did Parliament respond to it?
  5. What did it mean to call someone a patriot?  A loyalist?

The Stamp Act and Other Laws

The French and Indian War (1754–63) was a watershed event in the political development of the colonies.  Following Britain’s acquisition of French territory in North America, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763 limiting westward expansion of colonial settlements, all with the goal of organizing his newly enlarged North American empire and avoiding conflict with Native Americans beyond the Appalachian Mountains.  This alienated colonists who had fought the war with the promise of a new source of free or cheap land in mind.

Furthermore, the French and Indian War nearly doubled Great Britain’s national debt, and Parliament was keen to find new sources of revenue to settle this debt.

In 1764, Parliament began allowing customs officers to search random houses in the colonies for smuggled goods on which no import tax had been paid. British authorities thought that if profits from smuggled goods could be directed towards Britain, the money could help pay off debts. Colonists were horrified that they could be searched without warrant at any given moment.

Also in 1764, Parliament began to impose new taxes on the colonists. The Sugar Act of 1764 reduced taxes on sugar and molasses imposed by the earlier Molasses Act, but at the same time strengthened the enforcement of tax collection, making smuggling harder. It also provided that British judges, and not colonial juries – who, as consumers of the smuggled sugar in question, might be more sympathetic to the accused – would try cases involving violations of that Act.

The next year, Parliament passed the Quartering Act, which required the colonies to provide room and board for British soldiers stationed in North America; the soldiers would serve various purposes, chiefly to enforce the previously passed acts of Parliament.

Following the Quartering Act, Parliament passed one of the most infamous pieces of legislation: the Stamp Act. Previously, Parliament imposed only external taxes on imports, paid by the merchants who actually brought goods into the colonies. The Stamp Act provided the first internal tax paid directly by the colonists when they purchased books, newspapers, pamphlets, legal documents, playing cards, and dice. These items – important for communication and entertainment – now required an official tax stamp as proof of payment.

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Proof sheet of one-penny stamps submitted for approval to Commissioners of Stamps by engraver, May 10, 1765.

The colonial legislature of Massachusetts requested a conference on the Stamp Act; the Stamp Act Congress met in October that year, petitioning the King and Parliament to repeal the act before it went into effect at the end of the month, crying “taxation without representation.”  Specifically, these colonists argued that as English subjects, they were entitled to a voice in Parliament.  As it stood, the colonists had no right to vote – so Parliament could impose all of the unpopular laws and taxes that it liked on colonists, and they faced no consequences at the ballot box…  Without a member of Parliament working on their behalf, this was hardly the outcome of a democracy – it may as well be the act of an absolute tyrant.

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American newspapers reacted to the Stamp Act with anger and predictions of the demise of journalism.

The Stamp Act faced vehement opposition throughout the colonies. Merchants and consumers alike threatened to boycott British products. Thousands of New Yorkers rioted near the location where the stamps were stored. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty, a violent group led by radical statesman Samuel Adams, destroyed the home of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson.  Adams wanted to free people from their awe of social and political superiors, make them aware of their own power and importance, and thus arouse them to action. Toward these objectives, he published articles in newspapers and made speeches in town meetings, instigating resolutions that appealed to the colonists’ democratic impulses.

The Sons of Liberty also popularized the use of tar and feathering to punish and humiliate offending government officials starting in 1767. This method was also used against those who threatened to break the boycott and later against British Loyalists during the American Revolution.

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The Bostonian Paying the Excise-Man, 1774 British propaganda print, referring to the tarring and feathering, of Boston Commissioner of Customs John Malcolm four weeks after the Boston Tea Party. The men also poured hot tea down Malcolm’s throat; note the noose hanging on the Liberty Tree and the Stamp Act posted upside-down.

Parliament did indeed repeal the Stamp Act, but additionally passed the Declaratory Act, which stated that Great Britain retained the power to tax the colonists, even without representation.

Believing that the colonists only objected to internal taxes, Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend proposed bills that would later become the Townshend Acts. The Acts, passed in 1767, taxed imports of tea, glass, paint, lead, and even paper. The colonial merchants again threatened to boycott the taxed products, reducing the profits of British merchants, who in turn petitioned Parliament to repeal the Townshend Acts. Parliament eventually agreed to repeal much of the Townshend legislation. But Parliament refused to remove the tax on tea, implying that the British retained the authority to tax the colonies despite a lack of representation.

In Boston, enforcement of the new regulations provoked violence. When customs officials sought to collect duties, they were set upon by the populace and roughly handled. For this infraction, two British regiments were dispatched to protect the customs commissioners, but the presence of British troops in Boston was a standing invitation to disorder.

On March 5, 1770, a large crowd gathered around a group of British soldiers. The crowd grew threatening, throwing snowballs, rocks, and debris at them. One soldier was clubbed and fell. There was no order to fire, but the soldiers fired into the crowd anyway. They hit 11 people; three civilians died at the scene of the shooting, and two died after the incident. Crispus Attucks was an American stevedore of African and Native American descent, widely regarded as the first person killed in the Boston that day and thus the first American killed in the American Revolution.  Dubbed the “Boston Massacre,” the incident was framed as dramatic proof of British heartlessness and tyranny. Widespread – and biased – patriot propaganda such as Paul Revere’s famous print soon began to turn colonial sentiment against the British. This, in turn, began a downward spiral in the relationship between Britain and the Province of Massachusetts.

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Silversmith and engraver Paul Revere created this image, which exaggerated or outright falsified certain details of the event in order to further public outrage against the British. Despite the fact that British fire was spontaneous and in response to snowballs and jeering from the American crowd, Captain Preston is shown ordering his men to fire, and a musket is seen shooting out of the window of the customs office, which is sarcastically labeled “Butcher’s Hall.” Some copies of the print show a man with two chest wounds and a somewhat darker face, matching descriptions of Attucks; others show no victim as a person of color. The image was published in the Boston Gazette, circulating widely, and became an effective piece of anti-British propaganda. The image of bright red “lobster backs” and wounded men with red blood was hung in farmhouses across New England.

Beginning in 1772, Samuel Adams in Boston set about creating new Committees of Correspondence, which linked Patriots in all 13 colonies and eventually provided the framework for a rebel government. Virginia, the largest colony, set up its Committee of Correspondence in early 1773, on which Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson served.

Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams, one of the colonies’ most vocal patriots.

A total of about 7000 to 8000 Patriots served on “Committees of Correspondence” at the colonial and local levels, comprising most of the leadership in their communities. Loyalists were excluded. The committees became the leaders of the American resistance to British actions, and largely determined the war effort at the state and local level. Later, when the First Continental Congress decided to boycott British products, the colonial and local Committees took charge, examining merchant records and publishing the names of merchants who attempted to defy the boycott by importing British goods.

In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which exempted the British East India Company from the Townshend taxes. Thus, the East India Company gained a great advantage over other companies when selling tea in the colonies – their tea was cheaper, and American smugglers faced the uncomfortable prospect of being undersold and put out of business entirely.  A town meeting in Boston determined that the cheap British tea would not be landed, and ignored a demand from the governor to disperse. On December 16, 1773, a group of men, led by Samuel Adams, some dressed to evoke the appearance of American Indians, boarded the ships of the British East India Company and dumped £10,000 worth of tea from their holds (around a million dollars in modern terms) into Boston Harbor. Decades later, this event became known as the Boston Tea Party and remains a significant part of American patriotic lore.

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1789 engraving of the destruction of the tea.

Parliament responded by passing the Coercive Acts which came to be known by colonists as the Intolerable Acts.  Intended as collective punishment to turn colonists against the Sons of Liberty and other radical patriots, they by and large had the opposite effect, further darkening colonial opinion towards the British. The Coercive Acts consisted of four laws. The first was the Massachusetts Government Act which altered the Massachusetts charter and restricted town meetings. The second act was the Administration of Justice Act which ordered that all British soldiers to be tried were to be arraigned in Britain, not in the colonies. The third Act was the Boston Port Act, which closed the port of Boston until the British had been compensated for the tea lost in the Boston Tea Party. The fourth Act was the Quartering Act of 1774, which allowed royal governors to house British troops in the homes of citizens without requiring permission of the owner.

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This Patriot cartoon depicting the Coercive Acts as the forcing of tea by prominent British politicians on a Native American woman (a symbol of the American colonies) was copied and distributed in the Thirteen Colonies.

In late 1774, the Patriots – as colonists who wished for independence came to be known – set up their own alternative government to better coordinate their resistance efforts against Great Britain; other colonists preferred to remain aligned to the Crown and were known as Loyalists. At the suggestion of the Virginia House of Burgesses, colonial representatives met in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, “to consult upon the present unhappy state of the Colonies.” Delegates to this meeting, known as the First Continental Congress, were chosen by provincial congresses or popular conventions. Only Georgia failed to send a delegate; the total number of 55 was large enough for diversity of opinion, but small enough for genuine debate and effective action. The division of opinion in the colonies posed a genuine dilemma for the delegates. They would have to give an appearance of firm unanimity to induce the British government to make concessions. But they also would have to avoid any show of radicalism or spirit of independence that would alarm more moderate Americans.

A cautious keynote speech, followed by a “resolve” that no obedience was due the Coercive Acts, ended with adoption of a set of resolutions affirming the right of the colonists to “life, liberty, and property,” and the right of provincial legislatures to set “all cases of taxation and internal polity.”

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. The American Revolution
  2. The Road to Revolution
  3. The Road to Independence
  4. History of the United States

Join, or Die: The French and Indian War

For centuries, France and England have been like ambitious siblings, close in age, evenly matched in most things, competitive, living in a house that’s too small for there ever to be peace.  They have repeatedly come into conflict over religion, territory, colonies, and anything else two countries might conceivably argue over…  In 1754, that rivalry came to the American frontier and set into motion a chain of events that would ultimately culminate in an American revolution…
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. How did the French and British differ in their approach to colonization of North America?
  2. What was the Albany Plan of Union? Did it work?
  3. What were the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1763)?
  4. What was Pontiac’s Rebellion?
  5. Why did the Proclamation of 1763 anger British colonists?

A European Rivalry

Throughout most of their mutual history, France and Britain have engaged in a succession of wars. During the 1700s, these European wars spilled over into the Caribbean and the Americas, drawing in settlers, African slaves, and native peoples.

Though Britain secured certain advantages—primarily in the sugar-rich islands of the Caribbean—the struggles were generally indecisive, and France remained in a powerful position in North America. By 1754, France still had a strong relationship with a number of Native American tribes in Canada and along the Great Lakes. It controlled the Mississippi River and, by establishing a line of forts and trading posts, had marked out a great crescent-shaped empire stretching from Quebec to New Orleans. The British remained confined to the narrow belt east of the Appalachian Mountains. Thus the French threatened not only the British Empire, but also the American colonists themselves, for in holding the Mississippi Valley, France could limit their westward expansion.

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European claims in 1748, on the eve of the French and Indian War.

Large areas of North America had no colonial settlements. The French population numbered about 75,000 and was heavily concentrated along the St. Lawrence River valley. Fewer lived in New Orleans, Biloxi, Mississippi, Mobile, Alabama, and small settlements in the Illinois Country, hugging the east side of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. French fur traders and trappers traveled throughout the St. Lawrence and Mississippi watersheds, did business with local Indian tribes, and often married Indian women. Traders married daughters of chiefs, creating high-ranking unions.  In this way, French colonial interests in North America meant coexistence, exchange, and commerce with native peoples.

In contrast, British settlers outnumbered the French 20 to 1 with a population of about 1.5 million ranged along the eastern coast of the continent from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in the north to Georgia in the south. Many of the older colonies had land claims that extended arbitrarily far to the west, as the extent of the continent was unknown at the time when their provincial charters were granted. Their population centers were along the coast, yet the settlements were growing into the interior. Nova Scotia had been captured from France in 1713, and it still had a significant French-speaking population. Britain also claimed Rupert’s Land where the Hudson’s Bay Company traded for furs with local Indian tribes.  However, in the more southern colonies – that would one day become the United States – British interests were frequently at odds with those of the natives, as the large colonial population pressed ever westward, clearing ancestral native land for new English-style farms and towns.

Voyageurs at Dawn, 1871 by Frances Anne Hopkins (1838–1919)
Voyageurs at Dawn, 1871 by Frances Anne Hopkins. To many natives, French activity in North America often looked more like this, than like a full-scale attempt to remake the land in image of Europe.

War on the Frontier

Portrait of George Washington by Charles Willson Peale, 1772
Portrait of British Lieutenant George Washington by Charles Willson Peale, 1772.

Disputes over who would control the Ohio River Valley lead to deployment of military units and the construction of forts in the area by both the British and the French, even though the area was in fact already occupied by the Iroquois Confederacy. An armed clash took place in 1754 at the French Fort Duquesne, the site where Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is now located, between a band of French regulars and Virginia militiamen.  The Virginians were under the command of 22-year-old George Washington, a Virginia planter and surveyor who had been sent on a mission to warn the French to leave the area.

Following an intense exchange of fire in which approximately one third of his men died, Washington surrendered and negotiated a withdrawal under arms.  This inauspicious battle is now regarded as the opening battle of a much larger war.

British colonial governments were used to operating independently of one another and of the government in London, a situation that complicated negotiations with Native American tribes, whose territories often encompassed land claimed by multiple colonies.

The British government attempted to deal with the conflict by calling a meeting of representatives from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the New England colonies. From June 19 to July 10, 1754, the Albany Congress, as it came to be known, met with the Iroquois in Albany, New York, in order to improve relations with them and secure their loyalty to the British.

But the delegates also declared a union of the American colonies “absolutely necessary for their preservation” and adopted a proposal drafted by Benjamin Franklin. The Albany Plan of Union provided for a president appointed by the king and a grand council of delegates chosen by the assemblies, with each colony to be represented in proportion to its financial contributions to the general treasury. This body would have charge of defense, Native-American relations, and trade and settlement of the west. Most importantly, it would have independent authority to levy taxes.  Franklin was a man of many inventions – his was the first serious proposal to organize and unite the colonies that would become the United States.

But in the end, none of the colonial legislatures accepted the plan, since they were not prepared to surrender either the power of taxation or control over the development of the western lands to a central authority.

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Join, or Die: This 1756 political cartoon by Benjamin Franklin urged the colonies to join together during the French and Indian War.

Britain’s superior strategic position and her competent leadership ultimately brought victory in the conflict with France, known as the French and Indian War in America (named for Britain’s enemies, though some natives fought on the British side, too) and the Seven Years’ War in Europe. Really the first true world war, with conflicts stretching from Europe to Asia, only a modest portion of it was fought in the Western Hemisphere.

The Treaty of Paris (1763)

The war in North America officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The British offered France the choice of surrendering either its continental North American possessions east of the Mississippi or the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, which had been occupied by the British. France chose to cede their North American possessions. They viewed the economic value of the Caribbean islands’ sugar cane to be greater and easier to defend than the furs from the continent. French philosopher Voltaire referred to Canada disparagingly as nothing more than a few acres of snow. The British, however, were happy to take New France, as defense of their North American colonies would no longer be an issue; also, they already had ample places from which to obtain sugar. Spain traded Florida to Britain in order to regain Cuba, but they also gained Louisiana from France, including New Orleans, in compensation for their losses. Great Britain and Spain also agreed that navigation on the Mississippi River was to be open to vessels of all nations.

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North America after the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

In the aftermath of the French and Indian War, London saw a need for a new imperial design that would involve more centralized control, spread the costs of empire more equitably, and speak to the interests of both French Canadians and North American Indians, now subjects of the British Empire.

The colonies, on the other hand, long accustomed to a large measure of independence, expected more, not less, freedom. And, with the French menace eliminated, they felt far less need for a strong British presence. A scarcely comprehending Crown and Parliament on the other side of the Atlantic found itself contending with colonists trained in self‑government and impatient with interference.

Furthermore, the French and Indian War nearly doubled Great Britain’s national debt. The Crown would soon impose new taxes on its colonies in attempt to pay off this debt. These attempts were met with increasingly stiff resistance, until troops were called in to enforce the Crown’s authority. These acts ultimately led to the start of the American Revolutionary War.

The incorporation of Canada and the Ohio Valley into the empire necessitated policies that would not alienate the French and Indian inhabitants. Here London was in fundamental conflict with the interests of its American colonists. Fast increasing in population, and needing more land for settlement, they claimed the right to extend their boundaries as far west as the Mississippi River.  Hadn’t that been how this whole war started in the first place?

Proclamation of 1763

The British government, fearing a series of expensive and deadly Indian wars, believed that former French territory should be opened on a more gradual basis.  Reinforcing this belief was Pontiac’s Rebellion, a bitter conflict which came on the heels of the Treaty of Paris, launched in 1763 by a loose confederation of Native American tribes, primarily from the Great Lakes region.  Named for Pontiac, the most prominent of many native leaders in the conflict, the members of the alliance were dissatisfied with British policies after the British victory in the French and Indian War (1754–1763).

While the French had long cultivated alliances among certain of the Native Americans, the British post-war approach was essentially to treat the Native Americans as a conquered people, eliminating benefits and autonomy that the various tribes had enjoyed while the French claimed the region. While French colonists—most of whom were farmers who seasonally engaged in fur trade—had always been relatively few, there seemed to be no end of settlers in the British colonies, who wanted to clear the land of trees and occupy it. Shawnees and Delawares in the Ohio Country had been displaced by British colonists in the east, and this motivated their involvement in the war. On the other hand, Native Americans in the Great Lakes region and the Illinois Country had not been greatly affected by white settlement, although they were aware of the experiences of tribes in the east.

Before long, Native Americans who had been allies of the defeated French attacked a number of British forts and settlements.  Eight forts were destroyed, and hundreds of colonists were killed or captured, with many more fleeing the region.  Warfare on the North American frontier was brutal, and the killing of prisoners, the targeting of civilians, and other atrocities were widespread on both sides.  The ruthlessness and treachery of the conflict was a reflection of growing tensions between British colonists and Native Americans, who increasingly felt they were in a war for their very survival.

Hostilities came to an end after British Army expeditions in 1764 led to peace negotiations over the next two years. Native Americans were unable to drive away the British, but the uprising prompted the British government to modify the policies that had provoked the conflict.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 reserved all the western territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River for use by Native Americans – no British settlers allowed. Thus the Crown attempted to sweep away every western land claim of the thirteen colonies and to stop westward expansion. Although never effectively enforced, this measure, in the eyes of the colonists, constituted a betrayal – what had they been fighting for the last seven years if not a right to occupy and settle western lands?  Why was King choosing Native Americans over his own loyal subjects?

Thus, the Proclamation of 1763 would rouse the latent suspicions of colonials who would increasingly see Britain as no longer a protector of their rights, but rather a danger to them.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. The French and Indian War
  2. The Road to Revolution
  3. The Road to Independence