14,000 YEARS BEFORE 985 AD
The first visitors to the American continents walked from Siberia over a land bridge (now Bering Strait) during the Ice Age. They entered through Alaska and over 4000-5000 years, they spread all over both the North and South American continents and its islands right up to Patagonia. By the end of the 15th century, there were at least 250 tribes with very diverse cultures and customs. They had at least 300 different languages and their scripts consisted of symbols. Some were semi-nomadic hunters, gatherers and fishers while others built settlements and farmed. These were the Native Americans who populated the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans (see Map p. I).
Historians now say that some of the cultures are as old as 40,000 years. But they do not know how or from where they came.
Around the beginning of the 11th century, Vikings from Norway arrived at the shores of Eastern Canada. They created a settlement but failed to establish themselves. The natives, who were in larger numbers, were not friendly and the voyages were difficult; in around forty years they left America for good.
Europe had been trading with the East for spices, silk, gold and silver for hundreds of years. In 1453, the Turkish Empire conquered Constantinople and cut off the trading route. Consequently, they began looking for alternate sea routes to the Indies.
Christopher Columbus believed that the earth was round and not flat, therefore it was possible to reach the Indies via the West. Of his propositions to various European monarchs, Queen Isabella of Spain agreed to finance his voyage to find this western trade route to the Indies. In 1492, he set out westward on his voyage to the Indies, which he thought was only 2500 miles away. He had underestimated it drastically; it was actually 7500 miles away. On finding land (an island in the Bahamas) after 61 days, he thought that his ship had reached the Indies and believed till his death that the place he had arrived at was the Indies (see Map p. II).
When he landed, he found that this New World was already inhabited by people. When word reached Europe that these people had no idea who Christ was, the missionaries were filled with zeal to spread Christianity there. On his subsequent voyage to
the New World, missionaries accompanied Columbus. Also, the Spaniards believed that converting the natives to Christianity would be a good way to acquire both land and loyal subjects.
Columbus created a settlement called Hispaniola, enslaved the Native Americans to work on the land and imposed a tax payable in gold. Failure to pay resulted in their hands being cut off. To maintain law and order he also dealt with the settlers from Europe very harshly.
In 1513, Spain proclaimed that all Native Americans must convert or be enslaved or executed though the missionaries who accompanied the settlers were against the subjugation of Native Americans as slaves. A few decades later, the Pope declared that Indians were not to be enslaved.
But the voice of reason was too weak to halt the stride of this hunger for acquisition, and which would only increase and spread with the passage of time.
Though the Spanish had been the first to reach the Americas, they were soon followed by Portugal, France and England. The defeat of the Spanish offensive by Britain commenced the decline of the head start that Spain had in the New World.
Whether it was the Spanish or the English or other European settlers, all of them either enslaved the Native Americans, or killed them if they resisted. What began as an exploration of a new trade route ended up in acquisition of new lands irrespective of the fact that they were already inhabited. The question was not whether they should or should not colonise in the New World. The question was – how should the native inhabitants be dealt with so that colonisation could take place? It was an age of desire to explore, acquire and expand.
But the native population fell to disease much more than to swords and guns. The Europeans brought with them diseases against which the Native Americans had no immunity. As a result, the Native American population shrank drastically. Consequently, the Spanish began importing slaves from Africa to work on the land soon after Columbus arrived in the Americas – slave trade which would continue to be carried out
by most European colonies in the New World.
Emboldened after its victory over the Spanish Armada, England began raiding Spanish ships returning home with riches from the New World.
News of the New World reached the common folk back home. They began looking at the Americas for new settlements. People tired of overpopulated cities, tenant farmers who had been evicted and needed new dwellings and work, Protestants wanting religious freedom to practice their own form of Christianity and a new lot of enterprising people who desired to make money by collecting money from small investors and by financing colonists to produce goods in the New World and selling it back home – all these people pined for a new land and looked towards the Americas to settle anew.
In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh, having received a patent from Queen Elizabeth, sailed west and founded the first English colony at Roanoke Island. They, however, returned home to England with Sir Francis Drake; altercations with Indians and shortage of food supplies forced them to abandon the colony. In 1587, Raleigh sent another group of 100 colonists under John White, who returned home to fetch supplies. Mysteriously, on his return to Roanoke Island in 1890, there was no one to be found. All the colonists had disappeared (see Map p. III).
In 1605, a group of English entrepreneurs formed the Virginia Company and got a charter from King James I to develop a colony in the Southern part of the Americas called Virginia.
Of the one hundred and forty four people who left for the new world, a quarter of them died on board. Some of the settlers had traded seven years of their labour for a passage to the Americas. Others belonged to the upper class, who did not know how to farm, hunt or live in the wild. When they arrived in Virginia and began the settlement of Jamestown they discovered it was swampy and inhabited by suspicious natives. Consequently, half of them perished due to disease, starvation or in attacks by unfriendly natives.
Some began to make friends with the natives; it brought much relief for the settlers as the natives provided food for them; also they got a respite from their attacks. Despite that, the settlers almost died of starvation, and Jamestown almost perished but for a relief expedition that came in time.
In 1613 Jamestown began growing tobacco, which became a money spinner for the settlers. On the heels of economic well being came seventy brides for these men. Their passage was paid in kind with one hundred and twenty pounds of tobacco per bride. It was now time to bring about some civic sense and social structure in the settlement. A legislative body was formed, which met for a week and passed laws prohibiting gambling and idleness, and made Sunday church service mandatory for all.
Within three weeks of this representative government coming into existence, Jamestown settlers bought twenty African slaves to work on their tobacco plantations from a Dutch ship that arrived carrying human cargo.
The Portuguese were the first to begin African slave trade, but were soon followed by the Spaniards, the Dutch and the British. Both the North and South used slaves – in the North as domestic servants and in the South as plantation workers.
Radical Protestants in Pennsylvania formally opposed the practice of slavery. Samuel Sewall, a New England judge called for the abolition of slavery. But this dissent was in its nascent form; it was too weak to make a difference.
In fact, now the colonial governments institutionalized slavery – Virginia passed a law that decreed slave’s children as
African slave trade
slaves. Maryland declared that converting to Christianity did not release a slave from slavery – he was a slave for life. New York legislation recognised slavery as a legitimate practice.
Slave trade thrived also because slaves were far less expensive than European servants. As a result the number of slaves in the New World rose dramatically.
In 1620, the third British colony came up in the New England area on the eastern coast. They were the Protestants who resented the still existing Catholic climate in England and wished to follow their faith in freedom. They decided to leave the church, for which the King of England ordered them to leave England. They relocated to Holland; hearing of the new world, they returned to England and petitioned for a charter to settle in the Americas. They took loans, formed a company and set sail on the ‘Mayflower’ for the new world. They were supposed to set up their colony in Virginia under the existing English governance according to the charter, but by mistake they arrived at
Provincetown Harbour, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which had till then not been colonised. Worried that some of the members were suggesting that they all return home, the leaders made a set of rules – known as the Mayflower Compact – which all the members agreed to obey.
Having been ruled by kings and subjected to laws enforced by them, this was an important development where a form of government was created by the people and for the people; one that would guide them for many decades.
Like the Jamestown folk, the Plymouth settlers also lost half its population to a harsh winter; but unlike them they were hard workers. Also, the natives in that area were friendly and often helped them. One of them spoke English and taught them how to grow indigenous crops, how to fish and survive the severe winter. The settlers traded fur for corn with the Indians, which they could send to England. Both the settlers and the natives promised not to harm each other; in fact, in 1621 they celebrated Thanksgiving together.
Plymouth colony (set up by these pilgrims) never grew too big; in 1691 it would become a part of the much larger Massachusetts Bay colony. Their contribution to the birth of the American nation was not so much in its size or its economic prosperity, but in its idea about self-rule, which had a lasting impact on the American mind and soul. It became the first stride towards the concept of self-rule.
In 1630, a strength of 500 settlers from England set sail towards Massachusetts Bay, New England area. They were Puritans – like the Pilgrims they also resented the suffocating interference of the Catholic Church, but unlike the Pilgrims, they did not want to separate from it, they wanted to ‘purify’ it.
Salem had been established as a colony a year earlier by another group of Puritans (see Map p. III).
By 1642, twenty thousand Puritans had sailed for America.
Puritans believed in hard work, good education and self-gov-ernance. They established fur, fishing and ship building industries, a system of free education, institutes of higher education, and a legal system. They printed their own books and developed various crafts.
But all was not well in their system. They were intolerant of any voice of religious disagreement – people who objected to their decrees were flogged or exiled or hanged. Crime was also dealt with very harshly – adultery was punishable by death, which was later trimmed down to whipping in public and the adulterer was forced to wear the alphabets AD stitched on their clothes. In fact, one can say that they had become a shadow of the very same intolerant and rigid system that they had aspired to purify.
The 17th century saw the sprouting of other English colonies all over America. Colonies in Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, North and South Carolina were either privately developed or were established by the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The colony on Rhode Island had a unique beginning. Roger Williams, a minister in Salem was against the usurpation of land by the settlers from the natives without a valid treaty or negotiation. He also insisted that the state and church should be separate. Troubled by his radical ideas, the governing body decided to send him back to England. Having discovered their nefarious intentions in time, he fled to a neighbouring area, which soon became a refuge for those who did not like the way the Puritans ruled the colonies.
Mid 17th century saw the development of another unique colony — a Catholic colony in Maryland. It had a thriving tobacco plantation, which permitted Protestants to settle in as well. When their numbers swelled, the Catholics felt threatened and passed a decree recognising all Christian religions, but proclaimed death penalty for atheists and Jews.
A third colony, unique in character was the ‘Quaker’ colony. Quakers laid stress on a personal and direct experience of Christ. Quakers were known for being pacifists, they dressed simply, they refused to swear oaths, they opposed alcohol and they participated in anti-slavery and social justice movements and prison reforms. William Penn, a wealthy Quaker, got a charter to colonise in America. He advertised openly and honestly and a rather unlike group of settlers made up the Quaker colony of Penn. The natives were treated fairly by him, the laws he made were liberal and anyone who wished to could settle down there. They founded the city of Philadelphia, second to Boston as a leading colonial culture center. In terms of religion, culture or ethnicity, it was the most genuinely tolerant among all the colonies.
The settlers came and usurped with the King’s permission, land that did not belong to the crown. The natives were at first fascinated with the foreigners, their religion and customs but being turned into slaves on their own land was not accepted as a friendly overture. Trouble between the Native Americans and the settlers was natural in such circumstances. The Native American psyche looks upon land not as a personal belonging but as a mother who nurtures all.
During the 17th century, there were attacks and counter attacks in which thousands of people were killed — both native and settlers.
In Virginia, Natives attacked settlers and killed hundreds of them. A few months later, the settlers avenged by butchering hundreds of Native Americans.
In New Netherlands, Dutch colonists murdered a hundred natives in their sleep in the most dastardly manner. That was the beginning of an awful war that came to an end with a hundred and fifty Dutch soldiers killing seven hundred natives near Stamford.
In New England, though the Pilgrims’ relationship with the
natives began on a friendly footing, and continued so for the next fourteen years, this peace ended when natives from the Pequot tribe killed a pirate and his crew. The Puritan army, along with their native allies went on a rampage; it resulted in the extermination of the Pequot tribe.
Peace reigned for the next 40 years.
But in 1675, a Native chief decided it was time to throw the foreigners out. The settlements in New England were razed to the ground when finally the colonies united and killed the Native chief. It would take the settlers another forty years to rebuild before they could look towards further expansion in the West (see Maps pp. IV, V and VII).
By 1732, thirteen English colonies had been established between Maine and South Carolina along the Atlantic coastline. Population had also grown to around 300,000, which included 25,000 African slaves. Settlers had come from other countries as well – the Irish, French, Scottish, German, Dutch began living in the English colonies (see Map p. VI).
Colonies were also becoming self-sufficient; their dependence on the mother country was waning. Boston and Philadelphia became publishing centers. Furniture and iron ore goods were being produced indigenously.
While English colonies dominated the South with their tobacco growers, and the New England area with their Puritans, the French dominated North America with Canada as its colony.
It was the era of greed and power, insecurity and expansion. The desire to be more powerful than the neighbouring kings provoked three wars in Europe between 1689 - 1748 that involved the English, Spanish and French. Its ripple effect was felt in their colonies. While wars were fought in Europe on three
occasions, the English, French and Spanish colonies indulged in attacks and counter attacks and raids on each others colonies with the help of their respective Native American tribal allies. At the end of these three events, the sum total was that England emerged richer – it now possessed Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and the Hudson River Valley.
Along with economic prosperity came the freedom to question the existing religious beliefs. The authority of the church had also begun to diminish. They did not become less devoted to Christ, but the colonists began to question the practice of the clergy dictating what they ought to think and what they ought to do. Speakers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield urged the colonists to think for themselves and argued that God was to be loved and not just feared, that internal goodness was the best way to be happy on this earth.
This change in religious perception came to be known as the Great Awakening. It led to widespread discussions about religion, and in the sprouting of numerous other Christian sects and greater religious tolerance. Realising the effect of great speeches, they felt the need for trained ministers. Thus, colleges like Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton and Columbia, amongst others, were set up to fulfill this need. This spontaneous movement had an indispensable effect on the thinking of the colonists — they realised that individual strength could become a strong force if they worked together.
Unwittingly, the British had themselves provided the first step towards independence for the American colonies. They believed that unification of the colonies would make it easier to both govern these colonies and to fight the French. By 1763,
after seven years of wars (also called the French and Indian War) between the British and the French and their native allies, the Treaty of Paris settled the war. France was finally driven out of America; Britain now owned Canada, all land east of the Mississippi River, Florida and some Caribbean islands (see Map p. VII).
This war marked the beginning of a more unified front in battle for the American colonies. But contempt between British commanders and the American militia serving under them during battles with the French marked the onset of hostility between Britain and the American colonists.
The population in the American colonies had grown enormously. 144 settlers in the new world in 1620 became 6,55,000 in 1730 in the thirteen colonies and by 1775 had become a strong
2.5 million. People believed in large families, for it meant more working hands. The growth in population was due also to immigration of settlers, not only from England but also from other European countries (see Chart p. VIII).
In the 18th century compared to people around the world, the American colonists had better living standards and physical health. The colonists were quite comfortable in the present state of affairs – lucrative trade, good protection by the British military forces, high wages, low living costs and minimal interference from Britain in matters of governance. But it would not remain so for too long.
“Boston Tea Party”, US postage stamp issued in 1973, illustrating the revolt by the Americans against British taxes in 1773, by throwing British tea overboard.
Britain decided to prevent further friction with the natives who were feeling threatened with the expanding presence of the colonists. They, therefore, made the Proclamation of 1763 – no colonist could settle beyond the peak of the Appalachian Mountains. This was unacceptable to the colonists – they did not want to remain as a small group of colonies on the eastern coast. They had fought the French and the natives so that they could make a foray into the free West. The colonists ignored the Proclamation and this became a bone of contention between Britain and the colonists.
Years of continuous wars had established Britain as a strong military power in the West, but it came at a heavy price. Their national debt was almost a staggering $240 million. Since some
of it was spent protecting the colonies from the French and the Spanish, the British government thought it was quite fair to make them pay for it.
To meet these expenses, it devised the Revenue Acts 1764 imposing taxes on sugar, wine, linen and silk. But taxation without representation was not acceptable to the colonists. They decided to boycott imported goods and increase their smuggling business.
Not satisfied with the revenue received, British parliament announced the Stamp Act 1765, declaring a levy on some goods, licenses, college degrees and all legal documents. Delegates from nine colonies met to discuss this grave problem, and sent a petition to Britain. When there was no response, they decided to boycott British wool, and encouraged colonists into wearing local clothing.
The British were forced to repeal the taxes only to be enforced again – this time through the Townshend Act 1767 on goods that included tea among other goods, with a view to fund the salaries of British judges and governors in the colonies. The colonists preferred the old system of the colonial legislature paying these salaries as it made it possible to influence these judges and governors during policy making.
To ensure the enforcement of this act, Townshend dispatched two regiments of redcoats to Boston, which was resented obviously by the American colonists. A skirmish provoked by the colonists resulted in the death of eleven of them at the hands of the British redcoats. To appease the aggrieved colonists, the Townshend act was repealed on all goods except tea.
Moderates on both sides maintained a status quo till things came to a head again. A million pounds of tea was packed off to the colonies at a price lower than the price of smuggled tea. The colonists resented this trade on a matter of principle. In 1773, at the Boston harbour, the colonists boarded three British ships and threw all the cases of tea overboard.
British parliament, livid with this behavior, passed the
Repressive Acts 1774 to discipline the rebellious colonists —
Boston harbour was shut off till the Bostonians did not pay up for the damage caused. This meant no supply of food, medicines or other goods. To add insult to injury, British parliament allowed Quebec, now a British colony to extend its borders into the Ohio Valley. This aroused the colonies into unified action
— food and other supplies came in through land and representatives from all colonies were called for a meeting to Philadelphia.
In 1774, 56 delegates from all the colonies except Georgia met at Philadelphia for the First Continental Congress to discuss the issue. Some were politically conservative; others were radical in their thinking. At the end of seven weeks of deliberation, they decided to send a declaration of rights and grievances to the King, stating the following:
They would accept supervision of the King but not the governance of the British parliament.
They would form their own government through elected representatives.
All trade with Britain would be stopped till the Repressive Acts were not repealed.
The Congress also resolved that all colonies would stand by each other in case any one of them was attacked by Britain and ended with a promise to meet again the following year and take stronger actions in case Britain did not satisfactorily address their issues. This meeting of Congress bound these colonies together in a much more closer tie.
“The distinction between New Englanders and Virginians are
no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American,”1 said Patrick Henry, delegate to the Congress.
The petition sent to Britain by the First Continental Congress was rejected. British parliament thought it was best to nip the matter in the bud. They, therefore, decided to cut off Massachusetts from the rest of the colonies.
The British commander at Boston ordered a raid in a suburb of Boston called Concord to seize guns and ammunition hoarded by the rebels, but a network of colonists called minutemen set out to warn them. The colonials encountered the British army in the town of Lexington; guns were fired — 8 minutemen were killed but due to the vigilance of the advance party, rebels in Concord were informed of the approaching British army and they were prepared. Whatever little the British found was seized by them, but on their return, the colonists attacked the redcoats.
The colonists, hiding behind trees and in houses opened fire on the redcoats in the streets. 90 colonists were dead but the British casualties were almost three times higher. Though not demanding independence yet, this marked the beginning of the American war against the mother country.
The American colonies were a fledgling compared to Britain, the mother country. Therefore, victory over dissidence in the American colonies was a foregone conclusion for many British generals. After all, their army had a strength of 50,000 men; they had the best navy in the world, and had 30,000 German mercenaries to fight for them. The Americans, on the other hand had no regular army, or navy or any substantial resources to put them together.
Despite such great advantages, Britain lost.
There was unrest in their own neighbourhood with Ireland; they could not depute their entire military strength to fight the Americans and their overconfidence in their military superiority over the colonies only weakened their position.
The American picture was not too bright — only one-third
1. Patrick Henry: Voice of the Revolution, by Amy Kukla, Jon Kukla, p. 38
of the colonists supported the move for independence, one-fifth were loyal to Britain, and the balance were indifferent. The American military was still in its pre-natal stage. They lacked discipline; officers were changed if the orders given were disliked by the soldiers; soldiers went home as soon as their term expired – irrespective of how the battle was going on; they were not very brave either – they often ran away seeing the British army advance; soldiers of one colony would not like being commanded by officers of another colony. There were never enough funds to feed or clothe them sufficiently. To top it all, Americans had their share of opportunists who thought nothing of selling goods to the British rather than to their own army or of hoarding goods to sell at a higher price later even though the army was in dire need for supplies.
Despite this dismal state of affairs, there was one positive factor – they had a common cause to fight for. Within a few years and plenty of battles, the American military had transformed from a ‘contemptible into a formidable enemy’ in the eyes of the British.
There took place 10 crucial battles, which shaped the American war of independence (see Map p. IX).
Congress at first refused to allow slaves to enlist in the continental army, but on reflection realized that there were chances that they might fight on behalf of the British. Therefore they agreed to George Washington’s suggestion and permitted freed slaves to enlist in the north to fight against the British. However, slave owners in the south refused to arm their slaves. Britain lured them with freedom to abandon their masters. Resultantly, some fled while some did fight for the Americans.
Soon after the fighting at Concord, in April 1775, the American forces captured Fort Ticonderoga near lake Chaplain and chased the British out of Boston.
In the same year, the Second Continental Congress took place at Philadelphia; though the radicals believed that war for independence was unavoidable, the moderates still wanted to reconcile with Britain. This Olive Branch petition asking for equal taxes and free trade or no tax and strict trade rules, was sent to Britain.
Fighting continued, and in late 1775, the Americans lost both Quebec and New York. The British could easily have routed the American army had they not lingered long enough and given time to the American army to strategise and get back on their feet.
In 1776, in the battle for New York, the mother country used Hessians — hired German soldiers — to fight against the colonists. This enraged the Americans and even some of the moderates were obliged to consider a war of independence against Britain.
Meanwhile, the king rejected the Olive Branch petition. He further stopped all trade with America and ordered a naval blockade.
The conservatives were still hoping for a reasonable reconciliation with the mother country. The radicals, ready to break free, decided to stir up the emotions of fellowmen. In 1776, Thomas Paine, a political thinker, wrote a pamphlet called ‘Common Sense’ putting in very simple language for the common people to understand, the reasons why independence for America was the right course of action. The effect of this pamphlet was staggering. It took the country by storm — to the extent that even some loyalists changed their mind and were obliged to agree that the British were indeed exploiting the American colonies and the
idea of establishing independence was common sense. George Washington made it mandatory that it was read to his troops to make them fight harder.
“… There is something very absurd in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island... Everything that is right or reasonable pleads for separation. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, ‘Tis time to part’. Even the distance at which the Almighty hath placed England and America is a strong and natural proof that the authority of the one over the other, was never the design of Heaven. The time likewise at which the Continent was discovered, adds weight to the argument, and the manner in which it was peopled, encreases the force of it. The Reformation was preceded by the discovery of America: As if the Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety.”1
The Americans were now unanimous in their mood for a revolution. In 1776, fifty-six representatives from the thirteen colonies met in Philadelphia to discuss the situation. Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and declared themselves as a new nation called the United States Of America, and in 1777, the Articles of Confederation, elucidating the rights of the central and state governments was issued. But it took another four years before it would be ratified by all the states.
It had now turned into an out and out war of independence. In 1776, the Americans emerged victorious at Trenton and Princeton, followed by the surrender of the British army at Saratoga in 1777, the turning point for the Americans. The French, who till this moment, were helping the Americans under cover, now openly recognized America as an independent nation and declared themselves as American allies. Seeing this as a great
1. ‘Common Sense’ by Thomas Paine.
opportunity to weaken their strong archrival Britain, eventually the Spanish and the Dutch also came in as allies.
In 1779, the American Navy, puny compared to the might of the British Navy won a momentous victory off the coast of England – a terrible blow to the pride of British navy.
In 1780, the Americans lost to the British in Charleston and in 1781 lost the battle at Guilford to the British but reclaimed it by the end of that year. And with the help of the French, they defeated the British at Yorktown, Virginia – British General Cornwallis surrendered his entire army of 8,000 men.
Finally in 1783, a peace treaty declared the independence of the thirteen United States of America. All the land from the Atlantic Coast to the Mississippi River and from Canada to Florida was ceded to the United States of America (see Map p. IX).
Among the many architects of American independence, one name that stands out most is that of George Washington – the indefatigable commander who lead the American soldiers across the colonies chasing after the British in an attempt to push them out. He faced defeat, desertion, disease, harsh winter, but never allowed his spirit to flag, instead he raised the morale of his men at every moment. He strategized constantly to keep one step ahead of his enemy and retreated only to come back stronger till his army finally wore out the British.
Independence had been achieved; it was now time to make a blueprint for their nation and put into place a proper governing machinery.
Though the Articles of Confederation were already there to guide the states in matters of rights and duties, there was constant quarreling among the states. Congress, comprising of equal representatives from each state, dealt with matters concerning war, coined money and ran the post office, but it could not wield
George Washington, general in the American war of Independence and the first president of the USA (portrait by Gilbert Stuart)
any real authority in tax, trade or judicial matters.
Two legislations provided stability to this loosely held confederation of states. The Land Ordinance of 1785 declared that the land owned by the federal government but not claimed by the states would be divided into square townships and further divided into 36 areas to be auctioned. Part of the proceeds was to be allocated for the establishment of public schools.
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 laid the foundation for the governance of the Northwest Territory and the admission of its parts as new states into the Union. It had three main principles:
Despite these ordinances two major issues plagued this fledg ling nation – each state had its own currency and it was difficult to regulate commerce between them. Also, the federal government was in dire need of funds to run this union of states.
It was evident that the Articles of Confederation required fair amount of changes to prevent this Union from falling apart. In
1787, Congress sent delegates from each state to Philadelphia to discuss the future course of action. 55 delegates from across the states got together and studied and debated over various forms of prevailing governments; finally by majority vote the delegation adopted the United States Constitution. The main architects of the constitution were George Washington, a general during the war of Independence, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin who was an inventor1 and a writer, Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the declaration of independence earlier, James Madison, who had drafted the Virginia state constitution in 1776 upon which this document was based and Alexander Hamilton.
The constitution split the government into three branches:
The task of the Legislature was to pass laws that would help regulate commerce within states as well as with foreign countries. It was important for states to be well represented to ensure that laws passed by Congress were favourable to their state.
1. He invented the bifocal lens, the lightning rod, the Franklin stove and the flexible catheter
governments to make their own laws on most issues.
By 1790 all the states agreed to ratify the constitution on a condition that a document stating the rights of an individual and state be put down in writing. To comply with this demand, the Bill of Rights consisting of 10 amendments to the constitution was added in 1791. This bill drew from various texts; – George Mason’s 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, the 1689 English Bill of Rights, Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ and other works of the Age of Enlightnment and earlier political documents like the Magna Carta. James Mason had suggested a ban on the continuation of slave trade but they were unable to accomplish it. Their inability to do so led to the bloody civil war.
George Washington was the unanimous choice as President considering his role in the Independence war. Though Washington belonged to no particular political party, people of a similar ideology gravitated towards each other and that gave rise to different political parties. He served for two terms; from 1789 – 1797.
On one hand there were the Federalists who believed in a strong central government running banks, supporting business and putting restrictions on speech and the press. On the other side of the spectrum were the Democratic-Republicans (who later were called just Republicans) who believed in more power for states and banks run by states, free speech and press.
America, now decided to build up a strong financial position. It, therefore, levied taxes on imported goods. It set up a National Chartered Bank for the purpose of depositing its revenue and printing paper money. With a result, it paid off all its debt (federal and state). War between Britain and France helped America increase its world market, which promoted development of its industry.
Teething troubles plagued America constantly, but they also helped iron out some of the weak issues in its system. State constitutions drafted by businessmen were tough on farmers, provoking them into armed rebellion. It led to many reforms in tax
laws in favour of farmers and workmen.
During his presidency, Washington himself led a military force to put down a rebellion by distillers refusing to pay tax on whisky. This reinforced the need for a strong central government.
Victory of the U.S. army over Native Americans and their British allies ended the threat of the Native Americans and boosted the confidence of the U.S. armed forces.
Distressed by the French Revolution that lasted between 1789 and 1799, the federal Government under President John Adams (1897-1801) passed the Alien and Sedition Act (a total of four
acts) in an attempt to muzzle the press that was writing against the federal government and to prevent a similar rebellion against the American government.
The Anglo-French war after the French Revolution, threatened to engulf America as well. Though Federalists were pro-Britain due to trade and the Republicans were pro-French, both Washington and John Adams, the 2nd president of the USA, believed that the welfare of America lay in keeping itself out of all feuds. After plenty of trouble from the British navy which accosted American merchant ships, America (in an effort to keep itself out of this war), negotiated a treaty with Britain in which Britain gave up its forts in the Northwest and paid for damages caused to American merchant ships and in return America pledged to return its pre-revolution debts. A treaty was negotiated with France also; USA managed to keep itself out of the war.
The 19th century witnesses the adolescent years of America. The population was increasing by leaps and bounds – in 1800, there were around 5.3 million people including 900,000 slaves (a 35% increase in 10 years) of which 80% lived on farms. Property had become too expensive in the North and farmland had become infertile due to tobacco planting, so, people began moving west, where federal land was very cheap.
Thomas Jefferson, sworn in as the 3rd US president in 1801, sent an expedition across the continent to the West which brought back great knowledge of plants and animals that were found there and information about the fertility of soil. The Louisiana Purchase1 from the French that doubled the size of the country, that too at a pittance, was a great feat accomplished by Jefferson (see Map p. X-A).
British and French ships were found robbing American ships of both its cargo and men, this led Jefferson into forcing Congress to pass the Embargo Act that ended all American trade with foreign countries. But it was a costly decision; it led to the plummeting of the thriving American commerce resulting in ships sitting idle in US harbours and grains rotting for lack of permission to export.
1. France under Napoleon Bonaparte had acquired Louisiana from Spain in 1800 and taken possession in 1802, sending a large army to St. Domingue and ready to send another to New Orleans. Very apprehensive to have the very powerful French nation in control of New Orleans, Jefferson sent Monroe to France to buy New Orleans and West Florida for $10 million. Meanwhile, the French army in St. Domingue was annihilated by Yellow Fever. To cut his losses short, Napolean offered to sell the entire territory of Louisiana for $15 million. Though Monroe was not authorized for this, he agreed. Jefferson was very pleased, but also in a dilemma; a stickler for following the rules of the constitution, he was aware that as President, he did not have the constitutional powers to purchase land from another country. Yet, perceiving the public support for the Louisiana Purchase, he ignored the legal interpretation of the constitution.
Jefferson (1801-1809) formulated a policy to allow Native Americans to remain on the East of the Mississippi on the condition that they become ‘civilized’. He wanted them to learn to farm and give up their way of life as hunters. His main objective was to convince them to trade their lands for American goods. His plans for the Native Americans is evident in the letter he wrote in 1803 to William Henry Harrison:
“… Our system is to live in perpetual peace with the Indians, to cultivate an affectionate attachment from them, by everything just and liberal which we can do for them within the bounds of reason, and by giving them ef-fectual protection against wrongs from our own people. The decrease of game rendering their subsistence by hunting insufficient, we wish to draw them to agriculture, to spinning and weaving. The latter branches they take up with great readiness, because they fall to the women, who gain by quitting the labors of the field for those, which are exercised within doors. When they withdraw themselves to the culture of a small piece of land, they will perceive how useless to them are their extensive forests, and will be willing to pare them off from time to time in exchange for necessaries for their farms and families. To promote this disposition to exchange lands, which they have to spare and we want, for necessaries, which we have to spare and they want, we shall push our trading uses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands… In this way our settlements will gradually circumscribe and approach the Indians, and they will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States, or remove beyond the Mississippi. The former is certainly the termination of their history most happy for themselves; but, in the whole course of this, it is essential to cultivate their love. As to
their fear, we presume that our strength and their weakness is now so visible that they must see we have only to shut our hand to crush them, and that all our liber-alities to them proceed from motives of pure humanity only. Should any tribe be foolhardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing the whole country of that tribe, and driving them across the Mississippi, as the only condition of peace, would be an example to others, and a furtherance of our final consolidation.”1
US policy for acquiring land from the Natives had been to coerce them into selling it rather than go to war with them. As a result, several Native tribes, provoked by Britain, got together and waged a war on the Americans, which resulted in a draw, but weakened the Native American confederacy.
In 1809, Congress passed a law banning British and French ships from U.S. ports. A year later, James Madison (1809-1817), the 4th US president passed laws to revive the flagging US trade and lifted the ban on trade with both countries. However, Madison reimposed the trade ban, but only on British ships.
In 1812, blaming Britain for the terrible plight of their trade at sea due to plundering of U.S. ships by British ships, Madison declared war on Britain and gave orders to invade Canada. Though America was ill-prepared for this war, they went forth to battle; but did not meet with any success in the beginning.
1. Documents of United States Indian Policy, edited by Francis Paul Prucha, p. 22
But by 1813, luck changed. The Americans threw the British out of Detroit, defeated them at Thames River and put an end to British invasion of America through Canada. This would also be America’s last attempt to conquer Canada.
At sea, the American Navy with their warships won several battles against the British till the British sent reinforcements and prevented further encounters.
After defeating Napoleon in 1814, Britain turned its attention towards America and attacked Washington City, the American capital. Not prepared, the American army fled and the Britishers went on a burning spree, torching every public building including the White House. Instead of disheartening the Americans, it provoked them into action, which resulted in Britain retreating from Baltimore, Lake Chaplain and New Orleans after suffering heavy losses. Finally, in December 1814, both sides signed a treaty to end war. A treaty that has endured well — America and Britain have not fought since.
America had shown that when determined it could fight.
Individual colonies had grown into states and states had now become part of a nation. The first generation that had brought in the war of independence had almost disappeared. The new generation of Americans saw themselves as Americans, instead of as Virginians or New Yorkers.
Yet there were many events, which threatened to destroy this national spirit by creating a rift between the various regions of America.
The federal government had doubled the taxes on goods imported into the US in 1812. This move created a rift between the North and South since it earned the federal government revenue and boosted American industry as it encouraged people into buying indigenous goods instead of foreign goods. Since most manufacturing industries were in the North, it appreciated these tariffs but the South and the West, having few manufacturing units had nothing to gain, hated having to pay more.
Many state owned banks were set up since the first bank of the United States expired. But they extended credit and
printed money in excess of their reserves. In 1816, the Federal Government set up a second Bank of the Unites States. The government was selling land cheap in the six new states that had joined in; this encouraged people to move West, and the banks recklessly lent money for land purchase. During the Panic of 1819, when prices of land, goods and crops crashed, many over-extended state banks crashed. The Bank of the United States foreclosed on most of its debtors, leading to great resentment in the West against the North since they felt that the bank was a creation of financiers and speculators in the North. In an effort to revive the economy, the federal government reduced land rates – a move that was appreciated by the West but resented by the North, which saw it as a loss of profit.
American population was shooting up — owing not only to a galloping birthrate but also to immigrants from Europe. In 1820 the population was 9.6 million — a 33% increase in 10 years. There was plenty of land to inhabit, the passage was quite cheap and the American government made it very easy for immigrants to enter — there were no custom or immigration formalities. ‘... the sheer freedom of movement was staggering… In the five years up to 1820, some 100,000 people arrived in America without having to show a single bit of paper.’1
In 1819, John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State during Monroe’s Presidency announced the official policy of the State Department:
“The American republic invites nobody to come. We will keep out nobody. Arrivals will suffer no disadvantages as aliens. But they can expect no advantages either. Native-borns and foreign-borns face equal opportunities. What happens to them depends entirely on their individual ability and exertions, and on good fortune.”2
Up until the 19th century, most Americans lived on farms but after the war of 1812, there was a tremendous growth of factories and transportation systems. Cotton spinning factories, assembly plants, steam and water driven machines came into being.
The 19th century witnessed a new form of transportation – steamboats began to be used on the Mississippi to transport cargo. John Fitch, encouraged by the idea of the steam engine decided to try a similar experiment with boats. He developed a 45 feet long steamboat and ran it on the Delaware River in 1787. Its success encouraged him to build larger boats to carry passengers and cargo between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Canal building also boomed after the success of the Erie Canal joining Lake Erie to the Atlantic Ocean.
In the South, tobacco plantations were replaced by cotton and sugar due to inventions like the cotton gin that reduced labour considerably and a process that converted sugarcane into crystals through boiling. Suddenly there was a great demand for slaves on these plantations. Prior to this, the slave system was on the
decline — importation of slavery had been constitutionally banned, religion opposed the practice of slavery, slave owners were scared of slave rebellion. But a boom in the sugar and cotton crops saw a rise in the demand for slaves. They became a precious commodity; owners encouraged slaves to have more children so that they could be sold for profit. As they passed hands, slave families got broken up. 900,000 slaves at the beginning of the 19th century had quadrupled by the time of the Civil War in 1860.
Slaves were another bone of contention between the South and the North. The North opposed slavery on moral grounds, though northerners they did not allow African Americans in the North to vote, testify at trials, sue in courts, marry outside their creed, join labour unions, live with the whites in their colonies or attend school and also because slaves made the position of the South stronger in the House of representatives since it was based on size of population. The free labourers in the West were resentful of the South because they had to compete with cheaper slave labour.
President Monroe (1817-1825), though himself a slave owner from Virginia, was an advocate of antislavery and suggested that freed African Americans should be sent back to Africa since it did not seem possible for both races to live together in America. The government went so far as to establish a colony in Africa called Liberia for them, but most freed slaves wished to remain in the US as American citizens.
In 1820, Missouri and Maine were admitted as US states, one a slave state and the other a free state to preserve the balance between free and slave states that existed between America’s former 22 states. This law was called the Missouri Compromise of 1820 since it also stated that with the exception of Missouri, slavery would be prohibited in all territories north of 36:30 degrees north latitude. The South resented this move, as they did not want any clamp down on slavery and the North resented it because it amounted to an acknowledgement that slavery was acceptable (see Map p. X-B).
America bought Florida from the Spanish in 1819, and soon after, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico had gained their independence from the Spanish.
In 1823, the Monroe Doctrine was issued declaring that America would not interfere with existing European colonies in the New World but would not tolerate any further attempts by any European power to colonise land or interfere with any state in North or South America.
The next decade witnessed degradation in American politics – with supporters of various camps accusing the candidate from the opposition of corruption, murder, slave trading to downright vulgar accusations of gambling and bigamy to get the presidency. Focus shifted from real issues of national/state importance to candidate’s personalities.
On the other hand, newspapers and magazines became popular means of campaigning; voter turnout doubled between 1824 and 1828. Another positive change was a demand in North and West for free public schools.
John Quincy Adams, the next president, served one term from 1825-1829. He modernized the economy and promoted education; he also paid off most of the National debt.
But the efficiency of the government began diminishing – personnel of previous administrations began being replaced with personal office bearers. Federal jobs began to be given to campaign workers as rewards rather than on the basis of qualifications.
American Nationalism was being threatened yet again. In 1828, the federal government had again set high taxes on imported goods. The North welcomed the move, since it encouraged production of indigenous goods and reduced the demand for expensive British goods; the West also approved since revenue from these taxes would help build roads and canals it needed but the South felt it only hurt them; the suffering of British industry would make it more difficult for them to import cotton from the Southern plantation owners.
1830 saw a big change in transportation – the steam locomotive engine running on wooden tracks had arrived in America.
Within 30 years, America had built nearly 30,000 miles of tracks. Everything changed – more tracks meant more demand for labour, so immigration increased; more tracks meant a greater need of funds, so foreign investment increased; transportation of goods improved, so new markets developed, communication improved and people could travel from one place to the other faster.
A new sect of Christianity had developed in 1830 — Mormons. They were not received well by other people and after much persecution they travelled west and after two decades finally settled down in Utah, which was declared a territory in the Compromise of 1850 (see Map p. XII-A).
In 1830, a senator from South Carolina spoke in defense of the doctrine of nullification1 that granted states the right to accept or ignore federal law. Daniel Webster, one of the greatest orators of American history began his impassioned speech in defense of the Federal Union and against the theory of nullification. He said that federal laws were above the state laws, and that the resolution of conflicts between federal government and states were provided for in the Supremacy Clause and Article III of the constitution itself. It had a startling effect; thousands of copies of his speech were distributed and read, within a few years it found its place in textbooks in both North and West influencing thousands of youth. Abraham Lincoln, a young man in his twenties, was one of them.
However, despite so much opposition, in 1832, South Carolina passed the Ordinance of Nullification, declaring the federal tariffs null and void and its intent to defend its right with military action. Angered by this move, President Andrew Jackson sent the army to put down the rebellion but a compromise tariff was formulated which postponed the confrontation between the North and South for a few more decades.
A new political party came into existence in opposition to
the policies of President Jackson and the Democrats – the Whig Party. Famous political leaders like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, war heroes like Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott and frontier man Abraham Lincoln were members of this party. They advocated the supremacy of Congress over the presidency. They promoted the idea of high tariffs, national bank for money supply and government programmes of internal improvements like roadways and canal building to achieve industrialization and boost economic growth. They believed in modernization based on skill; they encouraged public schools, private colleges and cultural institutions.
James Monroe had started a policy of moving the natives living east of the Mississippi on fertile land to the west of the Mississippi that were the dusty prairies. But now with the Americans moving West to find their fortune, something had to be done about the Native Americans who had been sent off there earlier.
In 1830, President Jackson (1829-1837) passed the Indian Removal Act. In his address to the Creek Indians, he said:
“Friends and Brothers – By permission of the Great Spirit above, and the voice of the people, I have been made President of the United States, and now speak to you as your Father and friend, and request you to listen. Your warriors have known me long. You know I love my white and red children, and always speak with a straight, and not with a forked tongue; that I have always told you the truth…
“Your bad men have made my heart sicken and bleed, by the murder of one of my white children in Georgia. Our peaceful mother earth has been stained by the blood of the whiteman and calls for punishment of his murderers, whose surrender is now demanded under the solemn obligation of the treaty which your chiefs and warriors in council have agreed to…
“Where you now are, you and my white children are too near to each other to live in harmony and peace. Your game is destroyed, and many of your people will not work and till the earth. Beyond the great River Mississippi, where a part of your nation has gone, your Father has provided a country large enough for all of you, and he advises you to remove to it. There your white brothers will not trouble you; they will have no claim to the land, and you can live upon it you and all your children, as long as the grass grows or the water runs, in peace and plenty. It will be yours forever. For the improvements in the country where you now live, and for all the stock, which you cannot take with you, your Father will pay you a fair price…
“Many years ago, I told you of this new country, where you might be preserved as a great nation… in that country, your father, the President, now promises to protect you, to feed you, and to shield you from all encroachment. Where you now live your white brothers have always claimed the land. The land beyond the Mississippi belongs to the President, and to none else; and he will give it to you for ever…”1 (See Map p. XI)
Within ten years, 100,000 natives had been removed from over 200 million acres of land and moved further West; thousands died due to disease, hunger and enforced exodus, which was aptly named Trail of Tears. The Sauk and the Fox tribe led by Chief Black Hawk went West across the Mississippi but in 1832, they changed their minds and returned and paid a heavy penalty for it – women, children and warriors were slaughtered by the US military force, and eventually they surrendered. One tribe kept the US army busy for 10 years in a war that cost the US millions before it finally surrendered to the US forces. Only
one national leader, Henry Clay spoke out against this terrible policy.
New inventions in farming – the steel plow for planting crops and the rolling machine for harvesting crops reduced the time taken considerably, thereby increasing America’s crop yield tremendously.
In 1837, President Andrew Jackson’s policies had led to the destruction of the Second Bank of United States. Federal reserves had been moved from the Second Bank to some smaller state banks. But credit policies of these state banks were reckless; they loaned paper money indiscriminately, which they printed in excess of their reserves of gold and silver. To arrest this trend, Jackson ordered that federal land could be bought only on payment of gold or silver. People ran to banks to exchange their paper money for these precious metals, but the banks began to refuse them due to insufficient reserve; many banks crashed, thousands of people lost their land; loans dried up, businesses and civic projects collapsed, purchases went down, land prices plummeted; and all this led to severe unemployment which resulted in people going hungry and America suffered a terrible four-year recession.1
Martin Van Buren who became the eighth President of the
U.S. in 1837 and served for four years inherited all these problems from Jackson.
American and Mexican settlers living in Texas, a colony in the newly formed country of Mexico had begun to see them-
1. Panic of 1837
selves as Texians rather than Mexicans. Slavery had been abolished in Mexico and it was mandatory for settlers to convert to Roman Catholicism, but American settlers ignored both these laws. When the Mexican President cancelled all special privileges given to Texas, the Texans declared their independence, threw the Mexican soldiers out and fortified a mission called the Alamo. In 1836, the Mexican army besieged the fort and killed all the rebels defending it. It incited the rebels even more; in a surprise attack they defeated the Mexican army and drove them out. Texas ratified a constitution and petitioned US for admission as a slave state. But Buren did not want the U.S. to annex Texas; it was only in 1845 that Texas would be admitted as a US slave state.
In 1841, Samuel Morse of New York invented the telegraph, the first instrument of mass communication. It revolutionised the world – by the end of the 19th century most countries would be receiving and sending telegraphic communication.
The period between 1840 and 1850 witnessed an even greater aggression in America to expand westward. Though acquisition of land from Native Americans and from other col-onisers to expand the young nation was a policy followed by most American leaders, it found a concretization in the words of John L. O’Sullivan, an American newspaper editor. ‘During the final phase of the Texas annexation crisis, he accused the European nations of ‘hostile interference’ in American affairs, “for the avowed object of thwarting our policy and hampering our power, limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”’1 In another newspaper column, referring to America’s dispute with England over Oregon, 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
1. excerpt taken from Manifest Design: American Exceptionalism and Empire, by Thomas R. Hietala, page 255
Go West, young man!
Emigrants moving West in covered wagons, often called prairie schooners.
and federated self-government entrusted to us”. His words describing America’s ‘manifest destiny’ made it a popular belief amongst the people that America had the God-given right to acquire land and expand from sea to sea.
Polk had his eyes set on the Oregon territory, which was under the joint occupation and control of both Britain and America. To avoid another war, he reached a compromise with Britain and in 1846, part of the Oregon territory was acquired by the US, which later became the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and parts of the states of Montana and Wyoming. Migration to the West continued – it was a difficult journey fraught with perils and hardships but wagonloads of farm people kept going. Some settled in the Great Plains of Kansas and Nebraska while others journeyed further West till they reached Oregon. By 1846, around 5,000 Americans had settled there and by 1859 the territory would become a state. Manifest Destiny was being realized…
Henry David Thoreau, author of “Civil disobedience”.
James K. Polk (1845-1849), the 11th President of the US, had decided that acquisition of California territory was also imperative to fulfill its manifest destiny. So, what could not be acquired through negotiations with Mexico was usurped through war. In 1848, after defeating Mexico, around 500,000 square miles of Mexican land was ceded to America; it would become the states of California, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Nevada and parts of some other states. Polk agreed to pay 80% of what he had offered before the war.
Abraham Lincoln, a member of the House of Representatives and many others criticized the Mexican wars, calling it unjust and immoral. General Ulysses S. Grant who fought in the war as a young army lieutenant, wrote later:
“… I know the struggle with my conscience during the Mexican War. I have never altogether forgiven myself for going into that. I had very strong opinions on the subject. I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico. I thought so at the time, when I was a youngster, only I had not moral courage
enough to resign. I had taken an oath to serve eight years, unless sooner discharged, and I considered my supreme duty was to my flag. I had a horror of the Mexican War, and I have always believed that it was on our part most unjust. The wickedness was not in the way our soldiers conducted it, but in the conduct of our government in declaring war… We had no claims on Mexico. Texas had no claims beyond the Nueces River, and yet we pushed on to the Rio Grande and crossed it. I am always ashamed of my country when I think of that invasion…”1
In protest, Henry David Thoreau, a famous American es-sayist, poet and philosopher refused to pay his poll tax and was consequently jailed. He expressed his protest in his famous essay ‘Civil Disobedience’, which was widely read by people including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King:
“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison… where the State places those who are not with her, but against her,– the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor.… Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible.”2
“I heartily accept the motto, that government is best which governs least; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which I also believe. That government is best which governs not at all; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.”1
The United States population was growing by leaps and bounds, owing to a large extent to immigrants who were now coming in from all over the world; from its own neighbourhood – Mexico and Canada, across the pacific from China and Japan and across the Atlantic from Ireland and Germany. These immigrants settled mostly in cities, living in clusters close to their own kind creating mini-nations.
Rise in immigration resulted in a growing resentment in the native born Americans towards the immigrants since jobs became a bone of contention. In 1849, it gave birth to the Nativists better known as the Know-Nothing Party, which demanded an end to immigration, a ban on immigrants holding office or voting and restrictions on Roman Catholics. Their Candidate Millard Fillmore would be sworn in as President from 1850-1853 after the untimely death of President Zachary Taylor.
Though the territory of California was meant only for America’s stride to touch the Pacific Ocean, it brought with it a tremendous windfall gain — unbeknown to its leaders there was tremendous wealth lying in its riverbeds. Gold was discovered in 1848, causing thousands of prospectors to rush over to the West to make their fortunes. Of them only a few struck gold and got rich but many stayed back and began working; California population became tenfold between 1848 and 1853.
Meanwhile the hostility over slavery was mounting up. Proslavery factions defended slavery through various arguments — apart from being profitable for slave-owners to keep slaves rather than free labour, they said that it was good for slaves too as slave-owners gave them shelter throughout their lives, it also civilised them through exposure to Christianity; and they asked one very pertinent question – what would America do with them once the slaves were freed? Considering this problem, most antislavery forces wanted only to arrest the spread of slavery in America, so that in time it would die out on its own. But there was an antislavery faction called the abolitionists who wanted to end slavery immediately.
Antislavery issues brought about an awareness of the lack of women’s rights in their country — like slaves, a woman could not vote, she had very little career options, after marriage all her property became her husband’s.
By mid 19th century, women began to publicly demand more rights for themselves. In 1848, at a women’s rights convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a leading activist rephrased the declaration of Independence written by Jefferson in her declaration of sentiments, “All men and women are created equal.”
In 1850, during President Zachary Taylor’s short tenure, California was admitted as a free US state, in what is popularly called the Compromise of 1850. There were at that time 15 free states and 15 slave states. The Southern states objected since it would swing the balance in favour of free states politically; nine of them even threatened to leave the Union. Henry Clay, not wanting the Union to fall apart arrived at a formula with the help of a young Senator from Illinois, Stephen Douglas. A compromise was reached in which California was admitted as a free state, New Mexico and Utah were declared as territories where the question of slavery would be decided later, slave trade was abolished in Washington D.C. and a Fugitive Slave Law (much abhorred by and protested against by Northerners) was approved that facilitated slave owners to recapture runaway slaves with federal assistance.
In 1854, President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act proposed by Stephen Douglas. It opened up large areas of land in the Northwest for settlers and the railroad but it repealed the Missouri Compromise that prohibited slavery in areas north of the 36:30 degrees north latitude, stating that the citizens of each territory would decide slavery. Stephen Douglas’ doctrine of Popular Sovereignty enraged the anti-slavery northerners and the abolitionists. Kansas became a hotbed of violence and President Pierce, unable to control it was denied the presidential nomination a second time and was replaced with President James Buchanan in 1857 who served till 1861 (see Map p. XII-B).
This issue led to a major reshuffle in the political parties; the Whig Party fell apart and a new party, the Republican Party took birth. The Northern Whigs favouring abolition of slavery joined the Republican Party while the Southern Whigs in favour of slavery joined the Democratic Party.
Advertising poster for sale of negroes