I Will Not Retreat a Single Inch: Reformers Make Themselves Heard

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. Generally speaking, what did abolitionists believe?  Identify one abolitionist and his or her strategies for achieving this goal.
  2. What was the Underground Railroad?
  3. What happened at Seneca Falls in 1848?
  4. What is a nativist? 
  5. What was Liberia?

Stirrings of Reform

The democratic upheaval in politics exemplified by Jackson’s election was merely one phase of the long American quest for greater rights and opportunities for all citizens.  These reformers dedicated their lives – often risked them – to make life as you know it possible….  to give Jefferson’s phrase “all men are created equal” the meaning you understand today – they took his exclusion of women, the poor, people of color, immigrants and others as a challenge, asking “Why not me too?”

The Abolitionists

In national politics, Southerners chiefly sought protection and enlargement of the interests represented by the cotton/slavery system. They sought territorial expansion because the wastefulness of cultivating a single crop, cotton, rapidly exhausted the soil, increasing the need for new fertile lands. Moreover, new territory would establish a basis for additional slave states to offset the admission of new free states.  In the 1830s Northern opposition to slavery became fierce, even if it was still a minority view.  The goal of the antislavery movement was abolition, or the end of slavery, and those who opposed slavery were called abolitionists.

An earlier antislavery movement, an offshoot of the American Revolution, had won its last victory in 1808 when Congress abolished the slave trade with Africa. Thereafter, opposition came largely from the Quakers, who kept up a mild but ineffectual protest. Meanwhile, the cotton gin and westward expansion into the Mississippi delta region created an increasing demand for slaves.

The abolitionist movement that emerged in the early 1830s was combative, uncompromising, and insistent upon an immediate end to slavery. This approach found a leader in William Lloyd Garrison, a young man from Massachusetts, who combined the heroism of a martyr with the crusading zeal of a demagogue. On January 1, 1831, Garrison produced the first issue of his newspaper, The Liberator, which bore the announcement: “I shall strenuously contend for the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population. … On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. … I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD.”

Garrison_Liberator_Banner
William Lloyd Garrison and the masthead of his antislavery newspaper, The Liberator.

Garrison’s sensational methods awakened Northerners to the evil in an institution many had long come to regard as unchangeable. He sought to hold up to public gaze the most repulsive aspects of slavery and to castigate slave holders as torturers and traffickers in human life. He recognized no rights of the masters, acknowledged no compromise, tolerated no delay. Other abolitionists, unwilling to subscribe to his law-defying tactics, held that reform should be accomplished by legal and peaceful means. Garrison was joined by another powerful voice, that of Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who galvanized Northern audiences.

800px-Frederick_Douglass_portrait
Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), a former slave whose stirring memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845), became a bestseller, which aided the cause of abolition by humanizing African-Americans.

One activity of the movement involved helping slaves escape to safe refuges in the North or over the border into Canada. The Underground Railroad, an elaborate network of secret routes, was firmly established in the 1830s in all parts of the North. In Ohio alone, from 1830 to 1860, as many as 40,000 fugitive slaves were helped to freedom. The number of local antislavery societies increased at such a rate that by 1838 there were about 1,350 with a membership of perhaps 250,000.

ch09_map1
Map of various Underground Railroad escape routes.
800px-Harriet_Tubman
A conductor on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman made 13 trips to the South, helping to free over 70 people. She led people to the northern free states and Canada. This helped Harriet Tubman gain the name “Moses of Her People.”

Most Northerners nonetheless either held themselves aloof from the abolitionist movement or actively opposed it. In 1837, for example, a mob attacked and killed the antislavery editor Elijah P. Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois.

As the Abolition movement became stronger in America, it was expressed in public debate and in petition. During one year, 1830, an anti-slavery petition drive delivered 130,000 petitions to Congress.  Pro-slavery forces responded with a series of gag rules that automatically “tabled” all petitions or debate around the subject of limiting slavery, preventing them from being read or discussed.  Rather than suppress anti-slavery petitions, however, the gag rules only served to offend Americans from Northern states, and dramatically increase the number of petitions.

Former President John Quincy Adams, elected to the House of Representatives in 1830, fought this so‑called gag rule as a violation of the First Amendment, finally winning its repeal in 1844.

Women’s Rights

Barred from politics and most professions, many women found their voice in church groups, especially those associated with the abolition movement.  Calling for the end of slavery brought many women to a realization of their own unequal position in society. From colonial times, unmarried women had enjoyed many of the same legal rights as men, although custom required that they marry early. With matrimony, women virtually lost their separate identities in the eyes of the law. Women were not permitted to vote. Their education in the 17th and 18th centuries was limited largely to reading, writing, music, dancing, and needlework.

ElizabethCadyStanton-1848-Daniel-Henry
Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1848 with two of her three sons.

The awakening of women began with the visit to America of Frances Wright, a Scottish lecturer and journalist, who publicly promoted women’s rights throughout the United States during the 1820s. At a time when women were often forbidden to speak in public places, Wright not only spoke out, but shocked audiences by her views advocating the rights of women to seek information on birth control and divorce. By the 1840s an American women’s rights movement emerged. Its foremost leader was Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

In 1848 Cady Stanton and her colleague Lucretia Mott organized a women’s rights convention—the first in the history of the world—at Seneca Falls, New York. Delegates drew up a “Declaration of Sentiments,” demanding equality with men before the law, the right to vote, and equal opportunities in education and employment. The resolutions passed unanimously with the exception of the one for women’s suffrage, which won a majority only after an impassioned speech in favor by Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist.

0365e4e9855679b8aa7161333eb87199
The Seneca Falls Convention was the first women’s rights convention. It advertised itself as “a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” Held in Seneca Falls, New York, it spanned two days over July 19–20, 1848. Attracting widespread attention, it was soon followed by other women’s rights conventions.

At Seneca Falls, Cady Stanton gained national prominence as an eloquent writer and speaker for women’s rights. She had realized early on that without the right to vote, women would never be equal with men. Taking the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison as her model, she saw that the key to success lay in changing public opinion, and not in party action. Seneca Falls became the catalyst for future change. Soon other women’s rights conventions were held, and other women would come to the forefront of the movement for their political and social equality.

In 1848 also, Ernestine Rose, a Polish immigrant, was instrumental in getting a law passed in the state of New York that allowed married women to keep their property in their own name. Among the first laws in the nation of this kind, the Married Women’s Property Act encouraged other state legislatures to enact similar laws.

In 1869 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and another leading women’s rights activist, Susan B. Anthony, founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), to promote a constitutional amendment for women’s right to the vote. These two would become the women’s movement’s most outspoken advocates. Describing their partnership, Cady Stanton would say, “I forged the thunderbolts and she fired them.”

Education

Public education was common in New England, though it was class-based, with the working class receiving minimum benefits. Schools taught religious values, including corporal punishment and public humiliation.

The spread of suffrage had already led to a new concept of education. Clear-sighted statesmen everywhere understood that universal suffrage required a tutored, literate electorate. Workingmen’s organizations demanded free, tax-supported schools open to all children. Gradually, in one state after another, legislation was enacted to provide for such free instruction.  States in the South, however, frequently resisted this impulse for both poor whites and free blacks – more education would have meant less control for the traditional wealthy planter class.

McGuffey's_Primer_1836
McGuffey’s Primer was a common American textbook. This edition dates from 1836.

Horace Mann was considered “The Father of American Education.” He wanted to develop a school that would help to get rid of the differences between boys and girls when it came to education. He also felt that this could help keep the crime rate down. He was the first Secretary for the Board of Education in Massachusetts in 1837-1848. He also helped to establish the first school for the education of teachers in America in 1839.

Elsewhere, other educational reforms were taking place during the same period. In 1833 Oberlin College had in attendance 29 men and 15 women. Oberlin college came to be known the first college that allowed women attend. Within five years, thirty-two boarding schools enrolled Indian students. They substituted English for American Indian languages and taught Agriculture alongside the Christian Gospel.

Asylum Movement

800px-Dix-Dorothea-LOC
Dorothea Dix was an American activist on behalf of the indigent mentally ill who, through a vigorous program of lobbying state legislatures and the United States Congress, created the first generation of American mental asylums.

Other reformers addressed the problems of prisons and care for the insane. Efforts were made to turn prisons, which stressed punishment, into penitentiaries where the guilty would undergo rehabilitation. In Massachusetts, Dorothea Dix led a struggle to improve conditions for mentally ill persons, who typically were kept confined in wretched prisons alongside actual criminals. After winning improvements in Massachusetts, she took her campaign to the South, where nine states established hospitals for the insane between 1845 and 1852.

Transcendentalism

800px-Benjamin_D._Maxham_-_Henry_David_Thoreau_-_Restored_-_greyscale_-_straightened
Henry David Thoreau was an American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, critic, surveyor, and historian. A leading transcendentalist, Thoreau is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay “Civil Disobedience,” an argument for disobedience to an unjust state.

In the early 1800s, while the Second Great Revival was shaking the country, some people in New England chose another way to faith. Many of them were reading the German Idealists and the Higher Criticism, and some of them had read new English-language translations of Hindu scripture. They were descendants of the people who had come to America to purify their faith. Some of these decided to go further. They called themselves transcendentalists, because they thought they “transcended” any petty doctrine. The Transcendental Club was founded in 1836.

The writer Ralph Waldo Emerson was a major theorist in the movement. He held that God was one, and not the three persons seen in Christian theology. Nor was God a personal being. The great ideas and loves of human beings persisted after their deaths, creating a vast Oversoul. There was no perpetuation of the individual soul. Individuals could move toward the inevitable perfection of their species, and to become one with the Oversoul. Other individuals who held some of Emerson’s beliefs included the feminist Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott (whose daughter was the author Louisa May Alcott) and Henry David Thoreau. Different members of the group experimented with vegetarianism, communism, pacifism, free-love, and other non-mainstream practices. Although they differed widely from their revivalist neighbors, many of them also held millenarian views: if only human beings became truly kind and wise, they could create an earthly paradise.

Temperance

Attitudes toward alcohol in America have always been complex, but perhaps no more so than in the mid 1800s.  Alcohol was a major source of government tax revenue, and a social force holding communities together. Yet drunkenness, particularly of the poor, began to be commented upon by the middle and upper classes during the late 1700s and 1800s, especially as drinking came to be associated with recent German and Irish immigrants – lesser Americans. During presidential elections, drunkenness was encouraged by political campaigns, and votes were often exchanged for drinks. Many churches came to believe that taverns encouraged business on Sundays, the one day without work, and that people who would have otherwise gone to church spent their money at the bar. As a result of these beliefs, groups began forming in several states to reduce the consumption of alcohol. Although the Temperance movement began with the intent of limiting use, some temperance leaders such as Connecticut minister Lyman Beecher began urging fellow citizens to abstain from drinking in 1825. In 1826, the American Temperance Society formed in a resurgence of religion and morality. By the late 1830s, the American Temperance Society had membership of 1,500,000, and many Protestant churches began to preach temperance.

800px-The_Drunkard's_Progress_-_Color
The Drunkard’s Progress: by Nathaniel Currier 1846, warns that moderate drinking leads, step-by-step, to total disaster.

Immigration

Americans found themselves divided in other, more complex ways. The large number of Catholic immigrants in the first half of the 19th century, primarily Irish and German, triggered a backlash among native-born Protestant Americans. Immigrants brought strange new customs and religious practices to American shores. They competed with the native-born for jobs in cities along the Eastern seaboard. The coming of universal white male suffrage in the 1820s and 1830s increased their political clout. Displaced patrician politicians blamed the immigrants for their fall from power. The Catholic Church’s failure to support the temperance movement gave rise to charges that Rome was trying to subvert the United States through alcohol.

The most important of the nativist – or anti-immigrant – organizations that sprang up in this period was a secret society, the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, founded in 1849. When its members refused to identify themselves, they were swiftly labeled the “Know-Nothings.” In a few years, they became a national organization with considerable political power.

bl1341-1
The Native American Party, renamed the American Party in 1855 and commonly known as the Know Nothing movement, was an American nativist political party that operated nationally in the mid-1850s. It was primarily anti-Catholic, xenophobic, and hostile to immigration, starting originally as a secret society. The movement briefly emerged as a major political party in the form of the American Party. Adherents to the movement were to reply “I know nothing” when asked about its specifics by outsiders, thus providing the group with its common name.

The Know-Nothings advocated an extension in the period required for naturalized citizenship from five to 21 years. They sought to exclude the foreign-born and Catholics from public office. In 1855 they won control of legislatures in New York and Massachusetts; by then, about 90 U.S. congressmen were linked to the party.

In the early 19th century, a variety of organizations were established that advocated relocation of black people from the United States to places where they would enjoy greater freedom; some endorsed colonization, while others advocated emigration. During the 1820s and 1830s the American Colonization Society (A.C.S.) was the primary vehicle for proposals to “return” black Americans to freedom in Africa, regardless of whether they were native-born in the United States. It had broad support nationwide among white people, including prominent leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay and James Monroe, who considered this preferable to emancipation. Clay said that due to

“unconquerable prejudice resulting from their color, they [the blacks] never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country. It was desirable, therefore, as it respected them, and the residue of the population of the country, to drain them off.”

Many African Americans opposed colonization, and simply wanted to be given the rights of free citizens in the United States.

1024px-Flag_of_Liberia.svg
The Liberian Flag.

After attempts to plant small settlements on the coast of west Africa, the A.C.S. established the colony of Liberia in 1821–22. Over the next four decades, it assisted thousands of former slaves and free black people to move there from the United States. The tropical disease they encountered was extreme, and most migrants died fairly quickly.  American support for colonization waned gradually through the 1840s and 1850s, largely because of the efforts of abolitionists to promote emancipation of slaves and the granting of United States citizenship. The Americo-Liberians established an elite who ruled Liberia continuously until the military coup of 1980.

The article was adapted in part from:

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

Manifest Destiny, Westward Expansion, and the Conquest of Mexico

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

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

Texas

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

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

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

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

800px-FalloftheAlamo
The Battle of the Alamo was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Following a 13-day siege, Mexican troops under President General Antonio López de Santa Anna launched an assault on the Alamo Mission near modern-day San Antonio, Texas, United States, killing the Texian defenders. Buoyed by a desire for revenge, the Texians defeated the Mexican Army at the Battle of San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836, ending the revolution.

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

Manifest Destiny

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

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

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

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

800px-American_Progress_(John_Gast_painting)
American Progress, (1872) by John Gast, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Columbia, a personification of the United States, is shown leading civilization westward with the American settlers. She is shown bringing light from the East into the West, stringing telegraph wire, holding a school textbook that will instill knowledge,[1] and highlights different stages of economic activity and evolving forms of transportation.
O’Sullivan’s original conception of manifest destiny was not a call for territorial expansion by force. He believed that the expansion of the United States would happen without the direction of the U.S. government or the involvement of the military. After Americans immigrated to new regions, they would set up new democratic governments, and then seek admission to the United States, as Texas had done. In 1845, O’Sullivan predicted that California would follow this pattern next, and that Canada would eventually request annexation as well. 

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

The Mexican-American War

800px-Mexico_1824_(equirectangular_projection)
Mexico in 1824.

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

333px-Wpdms_republic_of_texas.svg
The Republic of Texas: The present-day outlines of the individual U.S. states are superimposed on the boundaries of 1836–1845.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

800px-Battle_of_Churubusco2
This lithograph from 1847 depicting the Battle of Churubusco suggests the lopsided nature of many of the conflicts in the Mexican-American War.

Opposition to the War

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

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

Frederick_Douglass_by_Samuel_J_Miller,_1847-52
Ex-slave Frederick Douglass opposed the war and was dismayed by the weakness of the anti-war movement. “The determination of our slave holding president, and the probability of his success in wringing from the people, men and money to carry it on, is made evident by the puny opposition arrayed against him. None seem willing to take their stand for peace at all risks.”

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

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

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

The End of the War

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

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

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

800px-Mexican_Cession_in_Mexican_View
Mexican territorial claims relinquished under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in white.

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

800px-War_News_from_Mexico
War News from Mexico (1848).

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

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

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

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

The article was adapted in part from:

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

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

800px-John_Trumbull_-_John_Adams_-_Google_Art_Project_(498015)
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.

1024px-Property_protected_à_la_françoise
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

Powerloom_weaving_in_1835
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.

eli-whitney-and-the-cotton-gin-8
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.

800px-Duel_between_Aaron_Burr_and_Alexander_Hamilton
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.

800px-Plaque_of_Marbury_v._Madison_at_SCOTUS_Building
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.

800px-United_States_1805-01-1805-07
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.

Lewis_and_clark-expedition
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

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.

1024px-Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States
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.

1024px-Independence_Hall_10
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.

JohnDickinson4
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

rising-sun-chair2
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.

An_Advertisement_of_The_Federalist_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_16960
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.

1024px-Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_by_Emanuel_Leutze,_MMA-NYC,_1851
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.

800px-Benjamin_Franklin's_Reception_at_the_Court_of_France_1778
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.

800px-Surrender_of_Lord_Cornwallis
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

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.

New France 1754
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.

220px-Benjamin_Franklin_-_Join_or_Die
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.

Treaty of Paris
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

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

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

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

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

March 1643

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

December 1662

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

September 1667

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

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

October 1670

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

June 1680

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

3-tobacco-plantation-granger

April 1691

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

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

 

An Overview of the English Colonies in America

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. For what reasons were emigrants leaving Europe?  Why was North America an attractive destination?
  2. Compare and contrast corporate colonies, proprietary colonies, and royal colonies.
  3. What was the triangular trade?  How did it link three continents? What different roles did the New England and Southern Colonies play in this trade?
  4. How did the Quakers differ from those who lived in other regions of North America?
  5. Describe the economic divisions that shaped the Southern Colonies.

Early settlements

The early 1600s saw the beginning of a great tide of emigration from Europe to North America. Spanning more than three centuries, this movement grew from a trickle of a few hundred English colonists to a flood of millions of newcomers. Impelled by powerful and diverse motivations, they built a new civilization on the northern part of the continent.

The first English immigrants to what is now the United States crossed the Atlantic long after thriving Spanish colonies had been established in Mexico, the West Indies, and South America. Like all early travelers to the New World, they came in small, overcrowded ships. During their six-to 12-week voyages, they lived on meager rations. Many died of disease, ships were often battered by storms, and some were lost at sea.

Most European emigrants left their homelands to escape political oppression, to seek the freedom to practice their religion, or to find opportunities denied them at home. Between 1620 and 1635, economic difficulties swept England. Many people could not find work. Even skilled artisans could earn little more than a bare living. Poor crop yields added to the distress. In addition, the Commercial Revolution had created a burgeoning textile industry, which demanded an ever-increasing supply of wool to keep the looms running. Landlords enclosed farmlands and evicted the peasants in favor of sheep cultivation. Colonial expansion became an outlet for this displaced peasant population.

The colonists’ first glimpse of the new land was a vista of dense woods. The settlers might not have survived had it not been for the help of friendly Indians, who taught them how to grow native plants—pumpkin, squash, beans, and corn. In addition, the vast, virgin forests, extending nearly 2,100 kilometers along the Eastern seaboard, proved a rich source of game and firewood. They also provided abundant raw materials used to build houses, furniture, ships, and profitable items for export.

Although the new continent was remarkably endowed by nature, trade with Europe was vital for articles the settlers could not produce. The coast served the immigrants well. The whole length of shore provided many inlets and harbors. Only two areas—North Carolina and southern New Jersey—lacked harbors for ocean-going vessels.

Majestic rivers—the Kennebec, Hudson, Delaware, Susquehanna, Potomac, and numerous others—linked lands between the coast and the Appalachian Mountains with the sea. Only one river, however, the St. Lawrence—dominated by the French in Canada—offered a water passage to the Great Lakes and the heart of the continent. Dense forests, the resistance of some Indian tribes, and the formidable barrier of the Appalachian Mountains discouraged settlement beyond the coastal plain. Only trappers and traders ventured into the wilderness. For the first hundred years the colonists built their settlements compactly along the coast.

Political considerations influenced many people to move to America. In the 1630s, arbitrary rule by England’s Charles I gave impetus to the migration. The subsequent revolt and triumph of Charles’ opponents under Oliver Cromwell in the 1640s led many cavaliers—“king’s men”—to cast their lot in Virginia. In the German-speaking regions of Europe, the oppressive policies of various petty princes—particularly with regard to religion—and the devastation caused by a long series of wars helped swell the movement to America in the late 17th and 18th centuries.

The journey entailed careful planning and management, as well as considerable expense and risk. Settlers had to be transported nearly 5,000 kilometers across the sea. They needed utensils, clothing, seed, tools, building materials, livestock, arms, and ammunition.

English colonies were organized in three different ways. In one plan, corporate colonies were established by joint stock companies. A joint stock company was a project in which people would invest shares of stock into building a new colony. Depending on the success of the colony, each investor would receive profit based on the shares he had bought. This investment was less risky than starting a colony from scratch, and each investor influenced how the colony was run. These investors often elected their own public officials. (An example of a joint stock company on another continent was the British East India Company.) Virginia was settled in this way.

Proprietary colonies were owned by a person or family who made laws and appointed officials as he or they pleased. Development was often a direct result of this ownership. Charles II granted William Penn the territory now known as Pennsylvania. Penn’s new colony gave refuge to Quakers, a group of millennial Protestants who opposed the Church of England. (Quakers did not have ministers and did not hold to civil or religious inequality, making them a dangerous element in hierarchical societies.) Penn was an outspoken Quaker and had written many pamphlets defending the Quaker faith. He also invited settlers from other countries and other Protestant minorities, and even some Catholics.

Finally, royal colonies were under the direct control of the King, who appointed a Royal Governor. The resulting settlement was not always identical to England. For example, England had broken with Catholicism during the reign of Henry the Eighth, and the Old Faith was seen not only as religious heresy but the prelude to domination by other countries. Yet Maryland’s grant of toleration of Catholics was granted as a boon from the British Crown. In 1634, Lord Baltimore appointed George Calvert of England to settle a narrow strip of land north of Virginia and south of Pennsylvania as a Catholic colony via a royal charter. Fifteen years later, in 1649, he signed the Act of Toleration, which proclaimed religious freedom for its colonists.

Portrait of the British Colonies

The Colonies are often considered as three groups: New England (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut), the Southern Colonies (Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia), and the Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware). Sometimes the Carolinas and Georgia are counted as separate from the Chesapeake Colonies.13colonies

New peoples

Most settlers who came to America in the 17th century were English, but there were also Dutch, Swedes, and Germans in the middle region, a few French Huguenots in South Carolina and elsewhere, slaves from Africa, primarily in the South, and a scattering of Spaniards, Italians, and Portuguese throughout the colonies. After 1680 England ceased to be the chief source of immigration, supplanted by Scots and “Scots-Irish” (Protestants from Northern Ireland). In addition, tens of thousands of refugees fled northwestern Europe to escape war, oppression, and absentee-landlordism. By 1690 the American population had risen to a quarter of a million. From then on, it doubled every 25 years until, in 1775, it numbered more than 2.5 million. Although families occasionally moved from one colony to another, distinctions between individual colonies were marked. They were even more so among the three regional groupings of colonies.

The New England Colonies

The northeastern New England colonies had generally thin, stony soil, relatively little level land, and long winters, making it difficult to make a living from farming. Turning to other pursuits, the New Englanders harnessed waterpower and established grain mills and sawmills. Good stands of timber encouraged shipbuilding. Excellent harbors promoted trade, and the sea became a source of great wealth. In Massachusetts, the cod industry alone quickly furnished a basis for prosperity.

With the bulk of the early settlers living in villages and towns around the harbors, many New Englanders carried on some kind of trade or business. Common pastureland and woodlots served the needs of townspeople, who worked small farms nearby. Compactness made possible the village school, the village church, and the village or town hall, where citizens met to discuss matters of common interest.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony continued to expand its commerce. From the middle of the 17th century onward it grew prosperous, so that Boston became one of America’s greatest ports.

Oak timber for ships’ hulls, tall pines for spars and masts, and pitch for the seams of ships came from the Northeastern forests. Building their own vessels and sailing them to ports all over the world, the shipmasters of Massachusetts Bay laid the foundation for a trade that was to grow steadily in importance. By the end of the colonial period, one-third of all vessels under the British flag were built in New England. Fish, ship’s stores, and woodenware swelled the exports. New England merchants and shippers soon discovered that rum and slaves were profitable commodities. One of their most enterprising—if unsavory—trading practices of the time was the “triangular trade.” Traders would purchase slaves off the coast of Africa for New England rum, then sell the slaves in the West Indies where they would buy molasses to bring home for sale to the local rum producers.

triangle-trade1
The triangular trade. While slave labor was not widely practiced in New England, the region’s merchants participated and profited off of the trade directly – transporting enslaved Africans into slavery in the Americas, and carrying the fruits of slave labor, such as tobacco and sugar, to consumers outside of the American South.

The Middle Colonies

Society in the middle colonies was far more varied, cosmopolitan, and tolerant than in New England. Under William Penn, Pennsylvania functioned smoothly and grew rapidly. By 1685, its population was almost 9,000. The heart of the colony was Philadelphia, a city of broad, tree-shaded streets, substantial brick and stone houses, and busy docks. By the end of the colonial period, nearly a century later, 30,000 people lived there, representing many languages, creeds, and trades. Their talent for successful business enterprise made the city one of the thriving centers of the British Empire.

William Penn founded Pennsylvania in large part as a refuge for Quakers.  Quakers (or Friends) were a Christian group formally known as the Religious Society of Friends. Members of the various Quaker movements are all generally united in a belief  that there is God in every one.

This idea challenged and threatened the Puritan leaders of New England whose authority was based on their status in the Church.

The persecution of Quakers in North America began in 1656 when English Quaker missionaries Mary Fisher and Ann Austin began preaching in Boston. They were considered heretics because of their insistence on individual obedience to the Inner light. They were imprisoned and banished by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1660, English Quaker Mary Dyer was hanged on Boston Common for repeatedly defying a Puritan law banning Quakers from the colony.  Their books were burned, and most of their property was confiscated. They were imprisoned in terrible conditions, then deported.

Quaker Beliefs

Penn first called the area “New Wales,” then “Sylvania” (Latin for “forests” or “woods”), which King Charles II changed to “Pennsylvania.” On March 4, 1681, the King signed the charter and the following day Penn jubilantly wrote, “It is a clear and just thing, and my God who has given it me through many difficulties, will, I believe, bless and make it the seed of a nation.” Penn then traveled to America and while there, he negotiated Pennsylvania’s first land-purchase with the Lenape Indian tribe. Penn drafted a charter of liberties for the settlement creating a political utopia guaranteeing free and fair trial by jury, freedom of religion, freedom from unjust imprisonment and free elections.

Though the Quakers dominated in Philadelphia, elsewhere in Pennsylvania other groups were well represented. Germans became the colony’s most skillful farmers. Important, too, were cottage industries such as weaving, shoemaking, cabinetmaking, and other crafts. Pennsylvania was also the principal gateway into the New World for the Scots-Irish, who moved into the colony in the early 18th century. “Bold and indigent strangers,” as one Pennsylvania official called them, they hated the English and were suspicious of all government. The Scots-Irish tended to settle in the backcountry, where they cleared land and lived by hunting and subsistence farming.

New York best illustrated the polyglot nature of America. By 1646 the population along the Hudson River included Dutch, French, Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, English, Scots, Irish, Germans, Poles, Bohemians, Portuguese, and Italians. The Dutch continued to exercise an important social and economic influence on the New York region long after the fall of New Netherland and their integration into the British colonial system. Their sharp‑stepped gable roofs became a permanent part of the city’s architecture, and their merchants gave Manhattan much of its original bustling, commercial atmosphere.

The Southern Colonies

tobacco
Tobacco, primarily cultivated on large plantations by slave labor, was the staple crop of the Southern economy.

In contrast to New England and the middle colonies, the Southern colonies were predominantly rural settlements.

By the late 17th century, Virginia’s and Maryland’s economic and social structure rested on the great planters and the yeoman farmers. The planters of the Tidewater region, supported by slave labor, held most of the political power and the best land. They built great houses, adopted an aristocratic way of life, and kept in touch as best they could with the world of culture overseas.

The yeoman farmers, who worked smaller tracts, sat in popular assemblies and found their way into political office. Their outspoken independence was a constant warning to the oligarchy of planters not to encroach too far upon the rights of free men.

The settlers of the Carolinas quickly learned to combine agriculture and commerce, and the marketplace became a major source of prosperity. Dense forests brought revenue: Lumber, tar, and resin from the longleaf pine provided some of the best shipbuilding materials in the world. Not bound to a single crop as was Virginia, North and South Carolina also produced and exported rice and indigo, a blue dye obtained from native plants that was used in coloring fabric. By 1750 more than 100,000 people lived in the two colonies of North and South Carolina. Charleston, South Carolina, was the region’s leading port and trading center.

In the southernmost colonies, as everywhere else, population growth in the backcountry had special significance. German immigrants and Scots-Irish, unwilling to live in the original Tidewater settlements where English influence was strong, pushed inland. Those who could not secure fertile land along the coast, or who had exhausted the lands they held, found the hills farther west a bountiful refuge. Although their hardships were enormous, restless settlers kept coming; by the 1730s they were pouring into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Soon the interior was dotted with farms.

Living on the edge of Native-American country, frontier families built cabins, cleared the wilderness, and cultivated maize and wheat. The men wore leather made from the skin of deer or sheep, known as buckskin; the women wore garments of cloth they spun at home. Their food consisted of venison, wild turkey, and fish. They had their own amusements—great barbecues, dances, housewarmings for newly married couples, shooting matches, and contests for making quilted blankets. Quilt-making remains an American tradition today.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. The Colonial Period
  2. English Colonies
  3. William Penn

The United States: An Open Ended History

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

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

THIS UNIT WAS INDEPENDENTLY FINANCED BY OPENENDEDSOCIALSTUDIES.ORG.

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


Massachusetts: Church and State in the Land of the Wampanoag

Imagine that you have come around the world to found a proverbial city upon a hill – a model of Christian living which you intend as an example for the world.  What happens when the experiment spins out of control?
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 Mayflower Compact?  Without such a document, what might have happened in Plymouth?
  2. Who was Squanto?  In what ways was he able to help the Pilgrims during their early days in Massachusetts?
  3. What did John Winthrop mean when he said he wanted Massachusetts to be “a city upon a hill?”
  4. How did the people of Massachusetts deal with those citizens whose ideas diverged from those of the leadership?
  5. What happened during King Phillip’s War?

The Plymouth Colony

village
Plimouth Plantation is a living history park in Massachusetts that strives to recreate 17th century life in Plymouth faithfully for visitors.

During the religious upheavals of the 16th century, a body of men and women called Puritans sought to reform the Established Church of England from within. Essentially, they demanded that the rituals and structures associated with Roman Catholicism be replaced by simpler Calvinist Protestant forms of faith and worship. Their reformist ideas, by destroying the unity of the state church, threatened to divide the people and to undermine royal authority.

In 1607 a small group of Separatists—a radical sect of Puritans who did not believe the Established Church could ever be reformed—departed for Leyden, Holland, where the Dutch granted them asylum. However, the Calvinist Dutch restricted them mainly to low-paid laboring jobs. Some members of the congregation grew dissatisfied with this discrimination and resolved to emigrate to the New World.

In 1620, a group of Leyden Puritans secured a land patent from the Virginia Company. Numbering 101, they set out for Virginia on the Mayflower. A storm sent them far north and they landed in New England on Cape Cod. Believing themselves outside the jurisdiction of any organized government, the men drafted a formal agreement to abide by “just and equal laws” drafted by leaders of their own choosing. This was the Mayflower Compact.

Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899
The Mayflower was originally bound for the Colony of Virginia, financed by the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London. Storms forced them to anchor at the hook of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, as it was unwise to continue with provisions running short. This inspired some to proclaim that, since the settlement would not be made in the agreed-upon Virginia territory, they “would use their own liberty; for none had power to command them.” To prevent this, the Pilgrims chose to establish a government described in the Mayflower Compact. It was in essence a social contract in which the settlers consented to follow the compact’s rules and regulations for the sake of order and survival.

In December the Mayflower reached Plymouth harbor; the Pilgrims began to build their settlement during the winter. Nearly half the colonists died of exposure and disease, but come spring, neighboring Wampanoag Indians provided the information that would sustain them: how to grow maize.

The Landing of the Pilgrims, by Henry A. Bacon, 1877.
The Landing of the Pilgrims, by Henry A. Bacon, 1877.

Squanto

1911 illustration of Tisquantum 'Squanto' teaching the Plymouth colonists to plant maize.
1911 illustration of Tisquantum (“Squanto”) teaching the Plymouth colonists to plant maize.

Some European expedition captains were known to increase profits by capturing natives to sell as slaves. Such was the case when Thomas Hunt kidnapped several Wampanoag in 1614 in order to sell them later in Spain. One of Hunt’s captives was a Patuxet named Tisquantum. Tisquantum eventually came to be known as Squanto (a nickname given to him by his friend William Bradford). After Squanto regained his freedom, he was able to work his way to England where he lived for several years, working with a shipbuilder.

He signed on as an interpreter for a British expedition to Newfoundland. From there Squanto went back to his home, only to discover that, in his absence, epidemics had killed everyone in his village.  Squanto was the last of the Patuxet.

Southern_New_England,_1620–22_(rev)When the Mayflower landed in 1620, Squanto worked to broker peaceable relations between the Pilgrims and the local Pokanokets (a subgroup within the Wampanoag’s orbit). He played a key role in the early meetings in March 1621, partly because he spoke English. He then lived with the Pilgrims for 20 months, acting as a translator, guide, and adviser. He introduced the settlers to the fur trade, and taught them how to sow and fertilize native crops, which proved vital since the seeds which the Pilgrims had brought from England largely failed.  Whatever his motivations, with great kindness and patience, Squanto taught the English the skills they needed to survive, including how best to cultivate varieties of the Three Sisters: beans, maize and squash.

BONUS: Read more about The Three Sisters.
Illustration of corn cultivation in mounds by Algonquian village in North Carolina. Watercolor by John White c. 1585.
Illustration of corn cultivation in mounds by Algonquian village in North Carolina. Watercolor by John White c. 1585.

In the fall of 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag shared an autumn harvest feast. This feast was a celebration of the first successful harvest season of the colonists.  This three-day celebration involving the entire village and about 90 Wampanoag has been celebrated as a symbol of cooperation and interaction between English colonists and Native Americans. The event later inspired 19th century Americans to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the United States. The harvest celebration took place at the historic site of the Patuxet villages. Squanto’s involvement as an intermediary in negotiating the friendship treaty with Massasoit led to the joint feast between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag.

As food shortages increased, Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford relied on Squanto to pilot a ship of settlers on a trading expedition around Cape Cod and through dangerous shoals. During that voyage, Squanto contracted what Bradford called an “Indian fever.” Bradford stayed with him for several days until he died, which Bradford described as a “great loss.”

Considerable mythology and legend has grown up around Squanto over time, largely because of early praise by Bradford and owing to the central role that the Thanksgiving festival of 1621 plays in American folk history. Squanto was less the “noble savage” that later myth portrayed him and more a practical adviser and diplomat.

The First Thanksgiving
The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899). The painting shows common misconceptions about the event that persist to modern times: Pilgrims did not wear such outfits, and the Wampanoag are dressed in the style of Native Americans from the Great Plains.

Massachusetts Bay Colony

John Winthrop
John Winthrop was one of the leading figures in founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the second major settlement in New England, following Plymouth Colony. Winthrop led the first large wave of immigrants from England in 1630 and served as governor for 12 of the colony’s first 20 years. His writings and vision of the colony as a Puritan “city upon a hill” dominated New England colonial development, influencing the governments and religions of neighboring colonies.

A new wave of immigrants arrived on the shores of Massachusetts Bay in 1630 bearing a grant from King Charles I to establish a colony. Many of them were Puritans whose religious practices were increasingly prohibited in England. Their leader, John Winthrop, urged them to create a “city upon a hill” in the New World—a place where they would live in strict accordance with their religious beliefs and set an example for all of Christendom—an example of communal charity, affection, and unity to the world or, if the Puritans failed to uphold their covenant of God, “we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world” of God’s judgment. Winthrop’s sermon is often cited as an early example of American exceptionalism.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony was to play a significant role in the development of the entire New England region, in part because Winthrop and his Puritan colleagues were able to bring their charter with them. Thus the authority for the colony’s government resided in Massachusetts, not in England.

Under the charter’s provisions, power rested with the General Court, which was made up of “freemen,” required to be members of the Puritan, or Congregational, Church. This guaranteed that the Puritans would be the dominant political as well as religious force in the colony. The General Court elected the governor, who for most of the next generation would be John Winthrop.

The Puritan emphasis on reading directly from the Scriptures underscored the importance of literacy. In 1647 the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted the “ye olde deluder Satan” Act, requiring every town having more than 50 families to establish a grammar school (a Latin school to prepare students for college). Shortly thereafter, all the other New England colonies, except for Rhode Island, followed its example.

The Pilgrims and Puritans had brought their own little libraries and continued to import books from London. And as early as the 1680s, Boston booksellers were doing a thriving business in works of classical literature, history, politics, philosophy, science, theology, and belles-lettres. In 1638 the first printing press in the English colonies and the second in North America was installed at Harvard College.

Harvard College in 1720
Harvard College in 1720.

Witch Trials

Like most Christians in the early modern period, Puritans believed in the active existence of the devil and demons as evil forces that could possess and cause harm to men and women. There was also widespread belief in witchcraft and witches—persons in league with the devil. “Unexplained phenomena such as the death of livestock, human disease, and hideous fits suffered by young and old” might all be blamed on the agency of the devil or a witch.

In 1692 a group of adolescent girls in Salem Village, Massachusetts, became subject to strange fits after hearing tales told by a West Indian slave. They accused several women of being witches. The townspeople were appalled but not surprised: Belief in witchcraft was widespread throughout 17th-century America and Europe. Town officials convened a court to hear the charges of witchcraft. Within a month, six women were convicted and hanged.

The hysteria grew, in large measure because the court permitted witnesses to testify that they had seen the accused as spirits or in visions. Such “spectral evidence” could neither be verified nor made subject to objective examination. By the fall of 1692, 20 victims, including several men, had been executed, and more than 100 others were in jail (where another five victims died)—among them some of the town’s most prominent citizens. When the charges threatened to spread beyond Salem, ministers throughout the colony called for an end to the trials. The governor of the colony agreed. Those still in jail were later acquitted or given reprieves.

Giles_Corey_restored
Giles Corey (Sept. 19, 1692) being pressed with heavy stones for failing to enter a plea to the charge of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials.

Although an isolated incident, the Salem episode has long fascinated Americans. Most historians agree that Salem Village in 1692 experienced a kind of public hysteria, fueled by a genuine belief in the existence of witchcraft. While some of the girls may have been acting, many responsible adults became caught up in the frenzy as well.

Even more revealing is a closer analysis of the identities of the accused and the accusers. Salem Village, as much of colonial New England, was undergoing an economic and political transition from a largely agrarian, Puritan-dominated community to a more commercial, secular society. Many of the accusers were representatives of a traditional way of life tied to farming and the church, whereas a number of the accused witches were members of a rising commercial class of small shopkeepers and tradesmen. Salem’s obscure struggle for social and political power between older traditional groups and a newer commercial class was one repeated in communities throughout American history. It took a bizarre and deadly detour when its citizens were swept up by the conviction that the devil was loose in their homes.

The Salem witch trials also serve as a dramatic parable of the deadly consequences of making sensational, but false, charges. Three hundred years later, we still call false accusations against a large number of people a “witch hunt.”

Bridget-Bishop-Salem
Accused witch Bridget Bishop hanged at Salem.

Rhode Island

The rigid structure of the Puritan rule was not to everyone’s liking. One of the first to challenge the General Court openly was a young clergyman named Roger Williams, who objected to the colony’s seizure of Indian lands and advocated separation of church and state. Another dissenter, Anne Hutchinson, challenged key doctrines of Puritan theology. Both they and their followers were banished.

Williams purchased land from the Narragansett Indians in what is now Providence, Rhode Island, in 1636. In 1644, a sympathetic Puritan-controlled English Parliament gave him the charter that established Rhode Island as a distinct colony where complete separation of church and state as well as freedom of religion was practiced.

Roger_Williams_and_Narragansetts
Narragansett Indians receiving Roger Williams.

So‑called heretics like Williams were not the only ones who left Massachusetts. Orthodox Puritans, seeking better lands and opportunities, soon began leaving Massachusetts Bay Colony. News of the fertility of the Connecticut River Valley, for instance, attracted the interest of farmers having a difficult time with poor land. By the early 1630s, many were ready to brave the danger of Indian attack to obtain level ground and deep, rich soil. These new communities often eliminated church membership as a prerequisite for voting, thereby extending the franchise to ever larger numbers of men.

At the same time, other settlements began cropping up along the New Hampshire and Maine coasts, as more and more immigrants sought the land and liberty the New World seemed to offer.

King Philip’s War

Massasoit and governor John Carver smoking a peace pipe.
Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag, and early Plymouth governor John Carver smoking a peace pipe.

The Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower and founded Plymouth Plantation expended great effort forging friendship and peace with the American Indians around Cape Cod. They traveled long distances to make peace with Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag tribe, and Governor William Bradford made a gift of his prized red horse coat upon seeing that the chief admired it. Yet over the next 50 years, frictions and misunderstandings multiplied as wave after wave of Puritans and non-religious “strangers” (fortune-seekers not motivated by religion) kept arriving, often oblivious to the fragile peace carefully woven since the earliest arrivals. By 1675, the early efforts at friendship failed.

The Wampanoag tribe had entered into an agreement with the Plymouth Colony and believed that they could rely on the colony for protection. However, in the decades preceding the war, it became clear to them that the treaty was not stopping colonists from settling in Wampanoag territories.

Throughout the Northeast, Native Americans had suffered severe population losses as a result of pandemics of smallpox, spotted fever, typhoid, and measles, starting in about 1618, two years before the first colony at Plymouth had been settled.

The population of New England colonists totaled about 80,000 people. They lived in 110 towns, of which 64 were in the Massachusetts Bay colony, which then included the southwestern portion of the present state of Maine. The towns had about 16,000 men of military age who were almost all part of the militia, as universal training was prevalent in all colonial New England towns. Many towns had built strong garrison houses for defense, and others had stockades enclosing most of the houses. All of these were strengthened as the war progressed. Some poorly populated towns without enough men to defend them were abandoned.

Each town had local militias, based on all eligible men, who had to supply their own arms. Only those who were too old, too young, disabled, or clergy were excused from military service. The militias were usually only minimally trained and initially did relatively poorly against the warring Indians, until more effective training and tactics could be devised. Joint forces of militia volunteers and volunteer Indian allies were found to be the most effective. The officers were usually elected by popular vote of the militia members. 

Map depicting the approximate tribal territories of Native Americans around the year 1600, before the foundation of any permanent English settlements.

By 1676, the regional Indian population had decreased to about 10,000 (exact numbers are unavailable), largely because of epidemics. These included about 4,000 Narragansetts of western Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut, 2,400 Nipmucks of central and western Massachusetts, and 2,400 combined in the Massachusett and Pawtucket tribes living around Massachusetts Bay and extending northwest to Maine. The Wampanoags and Pokanokets of Plymouth and eastern Rhode Island are thought to have numbered fewer than 1,000. About one in four were considered to be warriors. By then, the Indians had almost universally adopted steel knives, tomahawks, and flintlock muskets as their weapons of choice. The various tribes had no common government. They had distinct cultures and often warred among themselves, although they all spoke related languages from the Algonquian family.

Indians Attacking a Garrison House.jpg
Indians Attacking a Garrison House, from an Old Wood Engraving This is likely a depiction of the attack on the Haynes Garrison, Sudbury, April 21, 1676.  Notice the European livestock dead in the foreground – to the Wompanoag, a frequent source of ire and a potent symbol of encroaching colonists, as cattle would graze in native fields, destroying their harvest.

Metacomet was the son of the sachem Massasoit, the Wampanoag chief who had originally made peace with the people of Plymouth colony in the 1620s.  Because of his closeness with the colonists during his youth, he adopted the name King Philip.  Unfortunately, by the time he himself became chief of the Wampanoag in 1662, the period of peaceful coexistence had become a distant memory following conflicts over land use, diminished game as a consequence of expanding European settlement, and questions of whether or not the Native Americans would submit to English rule.

Starting in 1675, in a conflict known by the colonists as King Philip’s War, Metacomet used tribal alliances to coordinate efforts to push European colonists out of New England.

The war was the single greatest calamity to occur in seventeenth-century Puritan New England and is considered by many to be the deadliest war in the history of European settlement in North America in proportion to the population. In the space of little more than a year, twelve of the region’s towns were destroyed and many more were damaged, the economy of Plymouth and Rhode Island Colonies was all but ruined and their population was decimated, losing one-tenth of all men available for military service. More than half of New England’s towns were attacked by Indians.

Philip_King_of_Mount_Hope_by_Paul_Revere
“Philip. King of Mount Hope,” a 1772 engraving of a caricature of King Philip by Paul Revere.

The war largely ended with Metacomet’s death. His head was mounted on a pike at the entrance to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where it remained for more than two decades. His body was cut into quarters and hung in trees.

More than 1,000 colonists and 3,000 Indians had died. More than half of all New England villages were attacked by Indian warriors, and many were completely destroyed. Several Indians were enslaved and transported to Bermuda, including Metacomet’s son, and numerous Bermudians today claim ancestry from the Indian exiles.

The article was adapted in part from:

  1. The Colonial Period
  2. English Colonies
  3. Squanto
  4. Patuxet