HONOURS GEOGRAPHY
Early History of the United States and Canada

*American history has always been connected with geography, as America has always been a place that was explored, expanded, and settled in recent historical memory.

*One of the most influential American historians was Frederick Jackson Turner, who, in 1893, posited his famous Frontier Thesis in ‘The Significance of the Frontier in American History.’ 

*According to Turner, the Frontier was what made America different and special.  Turner said that, in America, the frontier was where democracy was created, and where it was born anew every time the frontier advanced.  As the edge of settlement moved westward, people were obliged to start anew, but without the trappings and conveniences of the settled world, they had to work side by side and discovered equality.  These newly democratised men, in turn, came back to the old seats of power and renewed and invigorated them with democratic ideals all over again. 

*Scientists believe that the first people to come to America were the ancestors of the American Indians, and that they came across the Bering Strait land bridge about 12,000 years ago, during the last ice age, when the water was lower.  Some scientists have suggested, though, that they might have come during a previous ice age, 37,000 years ago.

*A few scientists claim that there is evidence of human settlement in the Americas 50,000 years ago, at least on the West Coast, although no-one knows how anyone got there at that time.

*Others have suggested that at least some (and maybe all) American Indians came across the Pacific in canoes and catamarans from Polynesia (experiments have shown that this was possible).

*Legends say that the Irish may have visited America, particularly St Brendan, who would have been there around 530 AD (experiments have shown that this was possible, although perhaps not likely).  Other legends say that the Welsh prince Madoc explored Mobile Bay around 1170 AD, and may have even set up settlements there.  Some historians believe the Chinese may have visited California in the 1400s (or earlier), but it is still up for debate.  Other legends persist of other early explorers.

*The oldest known European settlement in North America was in what is now Newfoundland.  It was established by the Vikings around 1000 AD, and called Vinland.  It apparently did not last long, and there are records of other failed attempts to found Viking settlements in North America about the same time, as well as mentions of expeditions to the area to cut timber for centuries afterwards.

*Of course, in 1492, Columbus discovered islands of the Caribbean Sea and claimed them for Spain, and the New World was opened for exploration and exploitation ever afterwards.  Europeans came to America for God, Glory, and Gold.  They were also looking for the mythical Northwest Passage, an all-water route to Asia.

*In 1534, Jacques Cartier explored the St Lawrence and named the land New France.

*In 1586, the English tried to found colony called Roanoke on the coast of North Carolina (which they named Virginia, after the Virgin Queen).  However, the colony vanished, and remains famous as the Lost Colony.

*In 1607, the English founded Jamestown in Virginia, and in 1608 Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City.  In 1620, the Pilgrims landed in New England, and in 1630 the Puritans followed.  By 1733 all 13 of the original colonies existed.

*Europeans came to America for God, Glory, and Gold, but they never found gold in North America.  Instead, they found tobacco and furs.

*In search of furs, the French (particularly Marquette, Joliete, and la Sieur de la Salle) explored the Mississippi River and its tributaries, claiming it all as Louisiana, after King Louis XIV.  They largely befriended the Indians, and never made a great effort to settle the New World, outside a few cities as trade centres at Quebec, Montreal, and New Orleans.

*The English, in addition to growing tobacco (and later sugar and rice in the Carolinas), also hunted and traded for furs.  They also came to the New World to farm on land no-one had ever claimed (and commercial farming became important in the middle colonies), and many, especially in New England and in Maryland, came to practise religion the way they thought best (and in New England, to keep anyone else from practising otherwise; in Maryland, the Catholics eventually passed laws of religious toleration because they knew they would one day be outnumbered).  Fishing and lumbering were also important in New England.

*There were a few problems.  First, most of the colonies in the New World existed to export raw materials back to Europe.  However, the southern colonies (Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia) mostly grew crops for export, and tobacco, rice, and sugar were all very labour intensive.  They had meant to enslave the local Indians, but found that they tended to either escape pretty quickly, or die of exhaustion.  So, in 1619, Virginians bought their first African slaves, thus creating social problems that would last for the rest of American history.

*Second, the French found it hard to populate the New World.  They had very restrictive policies on immigration, so very few people (relatively speaking) could come and claim land.  The English had few such restrictions, and by the mid-1700s, the English outnumbered the French about 1,500,000 to 50,000, but their colonies only stretched to the Appalachian Mountains.

*Finally, as the English colonies became crowded, they demanded more land.  The English and the French fought a number of wars in the New World in the late 1600s and early 1700s, although usually they were just extensions of wars being fought in Europe already.  During one of these, the English captured the French colony of Acadia, and it became part of Nova Scotia.

*In 1754, Lawrence and Augustus Washington, along with Governor Dinwiddie, hatched a plan to settle the Ohio River Valley.  Accordingly, they sent their little brother George to run the French out.

*This started the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years War, which lasted from 1754-1763 in the New World, and a little less everywhere else.  It was arguably the first world-wide war, and it was fought over land in America.

*During the war, many French Acadians refused to support the British, and their homes were burnt.  Many were exiled or fled, and of these, many ended up in Louisiana, where their descendents are known as Cajuns.

*The English eventually won the war, signing the Peace of Paris in 1763, and laid claim to everything east of the Mississippi River (except parts of Florida), including Canada (except the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon.  This should have been a great victory for the British Empire, but instead it was the start of one of its greatest losses.

*Two things happened in 1763, as the War drew to a close.  First, even as the French were defeated, certain groups of Indians were rising up again, especially as the British often were not as generous with them as the French had been.  One group of Indians were led by Chief Pontiac in Pontiac’s rebellion, which began in 1763.  Second, the British started to realise just how much the war had cost them.

*To deal with the Indians, who were, in part, angry over European encroachment on their lands, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which drew a line down the crest of the Appalachian Mountains, forbidding any white settlement beyond it (although this line was adjusted from time to time afterwards).  This angered many of the colonists, because they felt they had been fighting for the land across the mountains.

*To pay for the costs of the war (and for the costs of maintaining troops in America to deal with the Indians), the English parliament raised taxes on the American colonies. 

*In Britain (and America) at this time, it was believed that liberty was based on property.  Consequently, a just government could not take anyone’s property.  Taxes were, at least in theory, a gift from the people to the government.  Therefore, taxes could only be levied by Parliament (or another representative body) because it represented the property-owners.

*A theoretical division, at least in America, was drawn between internal (on property, for revenue) and external (on trade, to regulate commerce and the Empire as a whole) taxes.  Most British people felt this was silly.

*A theoretical division, at least in Britain, was drawn between actual and virtual representation.  Actual representation occurred when a man voted for a MP, but the MPs also virtually represented all Englishmen, with whom they naturally had certain sympathies.  Many Americans felt this was silly, at least across the Atlantic.

*There were a number of external taxes in place before the 1760s (such as the Molasses Act), but most were not enforced, or at least not enforced well.  Men (like John Hancock) grew rich off smuggling.

*Taxes like this were acceptable in part because they were easy to get around and because they were part of the mercantilist system.  The idea behind the mercantilist system (which all imperial powers used) was that the colonies ought to supply raw materials to Europe, who would in turn sell manufactured goods to the colonies.  Each set of colonies only supplied and bought from the mother country.  The idea was that each empire would be self-sufficient.  Indirect taxes that promoted this were seen as a reasonable part of keeping the empire running.  They also often helped the colonies, as products like tobacco were essentially subsidised by this system, which made sure Virginia tobacco could be sold in London.

*Thanks to the French and Indian War, however, Britain is deep (£125 million to £140 million) in debt, and also needs to police the Proclamation Line.  Parliament will soon need to raise taxes, and will irritate many people in the process, ultimately leading to Revolution.

*People did not even follow the rules of the Proclamation of 1763; Tennessee was first settled in 1769 or 1770, and the Watauga Association was formed in 1772—the first free and independent white government in North America.

*During the 1760s and 1770s, Britain will pass an unpopular law or tax, then remove it under pressure, thus reinforcing the colonial tendency to vigorously protest Parliament’s policies.  A whole series of items will be taxes at different points, and each tax will be repealed. 

*Eventually all the taxes were removed, except one on tea, just to prove that Parliament could tax anything they wanted to (in fact, Parliament even arranged to lower the price of tea, but the colonists figured this was just a trick).

*Many colonists boycotted tea, and eventually Bostonians rioted and threw a shipload of tea in the harbour on 16 December, 1773.

*There are other tea parties like this up and down the coast, and Parliament is not pleased.  In response, passes the Coercive Acts, or Intolerable Acts (1774).
Intolerable Acts
 Coercive Acts (1774)
  Boston Port Act (1)
  Massachusetts Governor Act (2)
  Imperial Administration of Justice Act (3)
  Quartering Act (4)
 Quebec Act (1774)

*These (1) shut down Boston Harbour until all the taxes were paid and the tea itself was paid for, (2) removed the governor from office and replaced him with General Thomas Gage who had the power to appoint a council and forbade town meetings, (3) ensured that royal officials charged with any crime would be tried in England (not the colonies), and (4) introduced more troops to enforce the laws, who had to be supported any way the military say fit (even in private homes).  Parliament also passed the Quebec Act, which preserved Catholicism, the French language, and other traditions in Quebec while extending its borders down to the Ohio River.

*The Virginia House of Burgesses in Williamsburg called for a day of prayer for Massachusetts and was disbanded by the governor.  Reconvening in the nearby Raleigh Tavern, they call for a meeting of all the colonies to decide what to do next.

*Twelve colonies (all but Georgia) sent a total of 55 delegates to Philadelphia, where they constituted the First Continental Congress (5 September, 1774-26 October, 1774). 

*Congress supports non-importation, non-exportation, and non-consumption agreements (except for rice, in order to get SC’s co-operation.

*Congress creates Committees on Public Safety, one per colony, to enforce boycotts, pass out fliers, protect people, and beat up folks they didn’t like.

*Relatively satisfied with their accomplishments, Congress adjourn, but decide to do it again next year, in May, 1775.

*May, 1775, the Second Continental Congress convenes, but by this point, the country is at war, after New England militiamen defended themselves from English troops sent to seize their supplies of gunpowder and ammunition.

*After over a year of warfare, the Continental Congress declared Independence from Great Britain on 4 July, 1776, but the war for independence ran until 1783.

*Not everyone supported the Revolution.  John Adams estimated that “We were about one-third Tories, and one-third timid, and one-third true blue.”  The Tories, of course, were those who had supported the King, and although the 1783 Peace of Paris required that the United States respect their property and other rights, they were often mistreated.  About 40,000 of these people, also known as Loyalists, went to Canada.

*The United States experimented with the Articles of Confederation throughout the 1780s, but found them too weak to manage internal affairs or to conduct foreign diplomacy. 

*Most of the states claimed lands west of the Appalachian Mountains.  When the Confederation government tried to get NC to give theirs up, the State of Franklin was formed in the disputed land (1784-1789).

*In 1787, the USA created a new Constitution for a federal government.  It was adopted in 1789, and is still in use today.  It created a mixed government, employing a monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.

*Partially in response to this, Quebec was divided into Upper and Lower Canada in 1791, with most French speakers in Lower Canada and most English speakers in Upper Canada.

*The war freed the United States from the Proclamation of 1763, although it had often been ignored anyway.  In fact, Tennessee was settled in the 1770s by people who ignored it.  They mostly came down the Great Valley from Pennsylvania and Virginia, but some came over the mountains from North Carolina, and they helped win the Revolution when they went back over the mountains to fight the British as King’s Mountain in 1780.  In Canada, however, some parts of the Proclamation of 1763 are still used in dealings with the First Nations of Canada.

*One of the last things done under the Articles of Confederation was the creation of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 that described how land would be sold, settled, and made into states in the Territory of the United States North of the River Ohio.

*After the Revolution, the USA went to the Mississippi River, but the Spanish would not let the USA trade through New Orleans, nor would the French.

*One of America’s first accomplishments as a nation was the purchase, in 1803, of Louisiana for $15 million.  Mr Jefferson immediately dispatched Lewis and Clark to explore the newly purchased territory in 1804-1806.

*Less than 30 years after the Revolution ended, however, the United States and Britain were back at war.  There were several reasons for this.  First, the British still maintained forts in the Northwest.  Second, they still encouraged the Indians to attack American settlers, hoping to keep the west unsettled.  Third, the Royal Navy was impressing sailors on American ships to use against France in the Napoleonic Wars.  Finally, many Americans simply wanted more land in Canada.  Although some fighting took place in 1811 between Governor Harrison and Tecumseh, the war did not really begin until 1812.

*Overall, the war was a disaster.  Despite some victories at sea that protected America’s boundaries, all the American invasions of Canada failed and the British actually burnt Washington, D.C.  They also bombarded Baltimore harbour, and in the process inspired ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’

*America’s partial success at sea convinced Britain to make peace in 1815 largely on the terms of returning to the status quo ante bellum, and this actually stuck after Andrew Jackson defeated a major British army at New Orleans after the treaty was signed (but before news had gotten to America).

*Throughout the 1800s, the United States would expand westward (and, in a slower way, so would the Canadas).  However, there was a major area of controversy in American expansion.

*By the time the US Constitution was ratified, it looked as if slavery might slowly die out in the United States.  Many people were opposed to it on moral grounds, and it was increasingly seen as economically inefficient, especially without the British market to sell lots and lots of exported crops through.  However, in 1793, Eli Whitney made it profitable with the invention of the cotton gin.

*Before the cotton gin was invented, cotton took too much work to produce.  Except for a select variety that could be grown by the coast, most cotton had short fibres that were full of seeds that took a long time to pick out.  The cotton gin made it possible to process cotton very quickly, and made it worth growing in vast quantities.  Unfortunately, this also required vast amounts of slave labour.

*Slavery was slowly made illegal throughout the northern United States in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and the Northwest Ordinance (theoretically) outlawed slavery in the states formed out of the Northwest Territory.  As the years passed, more northerners became opposed to slavery, and also found that they were generally opposed to Southern economic interests as well.

*More and more of the northern cities began to build factories in the early 1800s.  These factories could produce cloth and other finished goods, but could not do so as cheaply as was possible in England (because in America, anyone who did not feel like working could always go west to find cheap land, whereas in England, people were pretty much stuck). 

*Therefore, northern factory owners demanded that the government put tariffs on imports to make them more expensive—sort of like the external taxes that Britain had imposed to regulate commerce.  Southerners opposed this, because it encouraged the English to place high tariffs on American exports, and the South still did more business with England than with the north.

*Because the Senate has the same number of Senators from each state, the existence of more Southern states would give the South an advantage in the government.  Therefore, for both economic reasons and out of moral opposition to slavery, the North opposed the expansion of slavery.  The South demanded it, of course, to maintain parity in the Senate.

*Eventually, in 1820, an agreement was made that let Missouri into the Union and a slave state and Maine in as a free state, and agreed that no future slave states would be created north of the southern boundary of Missouri.  This was known as the Missouri Compromise.

*This compromise kept the Union together for a while.  However, many people still wanted to expand.

*One such place was Florida, still controlled by Spain.  In 1817, Andrew Jackson led part of the US Army into the state, supposedly chasing Seminole Indians who had attacked settlements in Georgia.  On the way, he happened to capture St. Mark’s and Pensacola, and to hang a couple of Englishmen who had supposedly stirred up the Seminole.  In 1821 Spain agreed to sell Florida to the USA.

*Sadly, another place where people wanted to live and work was the Cherokee country of northern Georgia and surrounding areas.  In 1829, gold was discovered there, and Georgians wanted to move in to mine it.  Despite winning their case in the Supreme Court, the Cherokee were removed in the 1830s, with the largest group going on the Trail of Tears in 1838 (2,000-8,000 deaths; 4,000 most likely).  A few Cherokee escaped; to-day they are the Eastern Band, live in North Carolina, and don’t always get along with the Western Band.

*Another attractive place was Texas, but it was still part of Mexico.  Some Americans settled there anyway, although to do so they had to swear loyalty to Mexico and promise to free their slaves and convert to Roman Catholicism.  Most did not, and did not plan to.

*Some of the early Texans were famous Tennesseans.  Samuel Houston, a former governor, went there to make a new life after divorcing his wife and turning to drink.  After failing of re-election after opposing Indian Removal, Davy Crocket left Tennessee hoping to make a new political career in the West.  He told his constituents ‘You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.’

*There was always a certain amount of tension between the Texans—both Anglo-American and Hispanic—and the Mexican government in Mexico City.  The Texans resented being told what to do by a distant and largely unconcerned government, and Mexico City became increasingly worried and annoyed by American immigration and the continued importation and enslavement of blacks.  They tried to stop this, but only too late.  Things came to a head around 1833, when General Antonio López de Santa Anna became dictator of Mexico and abolished local governments in Texas, or tried to.  With both their liberty and property under threat, the American settlers in Texas declared independence and Santa Anna marched his army north and the Texas War for Independence began.

*Early in 1836 Texas declared its independence, and Santa Anna invaded.  He first laid siege to the Texan defenders of the Alamo, led by Colonels William Travis, Jim Bowie, and Davy Crockett.  Knowing it was a poor position, Samuel Houston, recently made commander of Texan forces, told them to withdraw, but they refused.  Travis, according to legend, drew a line in the sand with his sword, and told all those who were willing to die defending Texas to cross over it and stand with him.  All but one did, leaving 189 men to fend of 3,000 Mexicans.

*Santa Anna laid siege to the Alamo for thirteen days (23 February to 6 March, 1836).  Eventually he broke into the walls around the old mission station.  Travis was killed defending the walls.  Bowie, injuring in a fall from the walls, was killed in his sickbed.  The events of Crockett’s death are controversial, but he certainly did not survive the Alamo, either.  Although tragic, their deaths delayed Santa Anna’s invasion, and let Houston gather his troops.

*Santa Anna marched on to Goliad, where he captured, executed, and burnt to bodies of about 400 Texans.

*These massacres, especially that at the Alamo, inspired Houston’s men to greater courage and determination.  Ultimately, they came upon a large detachment of the Mexican Army, with Santa Anna commanding, taking their siesta by the San Jacinto River on 21 April, 1836.  The Mexican army was surprised, attacked, and defeated but Texan soldiers shouting ‘remember the Alamo,’ with almost no loss of life for the Texans.  Santa Anna was captured and forced to sign a document recognizing Texan independence.

*Most Texans wanted to join the US, but because Texas permitted slavery and that was a controversial issue, Jackson, who wanted to annex the state, not only could not do so, he could not even give diplomatic recognition to the Republic of Texas until the last day of his presidency.

*Let to themselves, Texans formed their own Republic, made treaties with foreign nations, and conducted their own business for almost ten years.

*In the 1840s, many Americans began to move West, including some to the Oregon Territory and California, which were still part of Britain and California (respectively).  Many people had already settled there, especially in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  By 1846, over 5,000 Americans had travelled there along the Oregon Trail (and only about 700 British subjects lived in the Territory).

*In the 1840s, many Americans wanted to expand the nation to match the ambitions of these settlers.  Most politicians opposed this, though, out of fear of the slavery issue, and the balance in the Senate.

*In 1844, the Democrats were split on the issue, until a dark horse candidate from Tennessee was chosen.  He was James K Polk, and he promised to fulfil American’s Manifest Destiny.  Polk was also a friend and neighbour of Andrew Jackson, still alive and offering direction to the Democratic Party, and so Polk was presented as ‘Young Hickory,’ the natural successor to Jackson.

*Polk was elected, after promising to annex Texas and Mexico, and to get all of Oregon to 54°40’ or Fight! 

*Unlike any other president, Polk actually did all he promised (or pretty close).  In fact, his election was seen as a mandate by Tyler, who annexed Texas before Polk was inaugurated.  Polk then sent troops into disputed land between the Rio Nueces and the Rio Grande.  The Mexicans attacked them, and Polk responded with war.

*Santa Anna, Samuel Houston’s old adversary, had been exiled to Cuba shortly after signing away Texas ten years before.  He let it be known that if the US would get him back into Mexico, he would betray the country to the US.  Instead, he betrayed the US, when he once again took command of the Mexican Army and led it against that of the USA.

*In the war that followed, the US captured Northern Mexico, California, and eventually Mexico City.  When the war ended in 1848, the United States had nearly reached its present continental size (although we later bought a small piece of Arizona) because while the Mexican War was going on, Polk was also dealing with Britain.

*Despite the promise of 54°40’ or Fight, Polk knew the US could not make war on Great Britain, too, although he sort of threatened it, and the decision was made to divide the Oregon Country in two, continuing the old border to the sea.  This angered some of Polk’s supporters, but most people viewed it as a great victory.  Just to make sure some southerners were angry, too, slavery was banned in all the new territories.

*Flush with success and overwork, Polk went home and died.

*In 1848, gold was discovered at John Sutter’s Mill near Sacramento, California.  Soon more and more gold was found throughout Northern California.  A few men made fortunes mining, and many more made fortunes exploiting the miners—among them Levi Strauss, who sold his first blue jeans there.  Although the total number of migrants during the gold rush years is uncertain, the non-Indian population in California increased from 14,000 in 1848 to 223,856 by 1852.  This was more than enough to form a state, and in 1849, a group of Californians, wanting order in their settlement, drafted at President Taylor’s suggestion a state constitution that excluded slavery, and applied for admission to the Union.  The South was outraged, and, if it was accepted, the Senate would be unbalanced.

*A compromise was suggested:  California was admitted as a free state, the slave trade was abolished (only the sale of slaves, not slavery) in the District of Columbia; these were concessions to the North.  New Mexico (then including present-day Arizona) and Utah were organized without any prohibition of slavery (each being left free to decide for or against, on admission to statehood), The Fugitive Slave Act was passed, requiring all U.S. citizens to assist in the return of runaway slaves, was enacted; these were concessions to the South.  This was the Compromise of 1850, and passed after the unexpected death of President Taylor.

*Aside from political problems, the United States also faced more practical difficulties in dealing with her new western acquisitions.  The sea routes from the east coast to the west were too long, and the overland route was too slow.  Some people feared that without adequate communication between the East and West, the Pacific territories might break away from the Union.

*Some suggested using camels for transportation, and some were imported, but most people felt the only way to manage it was with a transcontinental railroad.

*Once again, there was sectional competition—would the route of this great railroad benefit the North or the South, or would multiple railroads have to be built?  Southerners, feeling pressured by the industrial North, wanted a southern route.  However, the best route, it turned out, passed through northern Mexico.  To get the good passes through the southern Rockies, Pierce appointed James Gadsden of South Carolina minister to Mexico, where he offered Santa Anna, dictator for the sixth and last time, $10 million for the small strip of land now known as the Gadsden Purchase.

*Northerners saw this as a waste of money, but the Senate confirmed it, in part because this southern route really was the best place to build the railroad at the time.  Not only was the terrain less difficult than farther north, but the proposed line would run through Texas, California, and the organised New Mexico Territory, whereas the most popular northern route would go through the wilds of Nebraska.  Some Northerners wanted to organise this territory so the railroad could be safely run through it, but Southerners did not want another free territory or a profitable railroad line in the hands of Northerners.

*From Illinois came Stephen Douglas, who thought of himself more as a Westerner than a Northerner or a Southerner, and as a Union man above all.  To help spur western growth and to promote the interests of railroads and real estate in which he had financial interests, he supported the creation of a northern transcontinental railroad.  To get this done, he had a plan, proposed in 1854.

*The Nebraska Territory would be organised and divided into two territories:  Kansas and Nebraska.  Douglas would completely throw out the old Missouri Compromise and the 36° 30’ line and open both territories to popular sovereignty, thus letting the people decide if their land would be free of slave.

*Many Southerners were excited.  At last they had a chance for more slave states in the existing lands of the United States.  Northerners bitterly opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, in part because it would abolish the almost-sacred Missouri Compromise, and because it might allow the spread of slavery.  Many Northerners regarded Douglas as a traitor.  He did not personally care one way or the other about slavery, but many of his countrymen did.  Congressmen came near to shedding blood, and many members of Congress carried pistols or knives for self-defence.  There was enough support for the bill, including that of President Pierce, that it was passed in 1854.

*When Kansas and Nebraska voted on whether to be free or slave states, supporters of both sides came to the region and began killing each other.  A sort of Civil War raged through Kansas for years, and was called Bleeding Kansas.  This would keep Kansas from becoming a state until 1861. 

*In 1857, an apparently simple court case shattered 37 years of compromises.  This was the case of Dred Scott v. John Sanford.  Scott had been born in Virginia around 1799, but in 1830 his master’s family moved to Missouri.  When his master died in 1832, Scott was sold to an Army surgeon named Emerson, who subsequently was posted to several places in free states and territories.  In 1843 Emerson died.  In 1846, he sued for his freedom on the grounds that he had lived for many years in free states and territories, but the Missouri courts found against him.  He tried to take it the Supreme Court, and in 1857, he presented his case against John Sanford, brother of the widow Emerson and executor of her husband’s estate.

*The Supreme Court ruled that Scott was not a citizen and therefore could not sue in a court, and that could have ended it.  However, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, a Jackson appointee, wanted to prove a point.  In his majority opinion, blacks were not citizens at all, and ‘the black man has no rights which the white man is bound to respect.’  Furthermore, even if Scott could sue, he still would have lost, because the federal government, thanks to the V Amendment, cannot deprive citizens of their property without due process of law.  That meant that simply living in or travelling through a free state did not automatically make a slave free.  Finally, the Court ruled that the Missouri Compromise, already repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, was unconstitutional because Congress had no power to ban slavery anywhere, even if the new territories wanted it banned.

*Southerners were pleased.  Popular sovereignty men were irritated—this was one more point of contention between the already fractious fire-eaters and abolitionists.  Free-soilers and abolitionists were outraged.  They claimed that the Court had not issued a decision, only an opinion, and dismissed the Court as a ‘southern debating society.’  They accused the Court of putting sectional politics above legality.  Southerners, in turn, were offended by these further attacks against the South and even, it seemed, against the Constitution which guaranteed the rights of the states.

*In October 1859 John Brown, the murderer of Pottawatomie, appeared in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia with twenty-one other men including three of his many sons (he had twenty children of his own in total, as well as an adopted black child). His plan was to seize the Federal arsenal in the town, and take the weapons to create an army of freed blacks.  Initially they would form a nation in the mountains of Western Virginia from which they would raid the enslaved areas around them, freeing slaves and attracting runaways as they did so.  Eventually this would develop into a full-scale slave insurrection in the South, ending the peculiar institution forever.

*Brown and his men quickly seized the arsenal and took control of the town, killing seven civilians in the process, including one free black, and injuring ten more innocent bystanders.  Despite Brown’s hopes, Southern blacks did not rise to support him, largely because most did not know about it, although doubtless they remembered other attempts to start servile insurrections, and the failure of said revolts.

*A company of local militia tried to take the arsenal, and killed or mortally wounded eight of Brown’s followers, separated five more from the main group, and caused two more to give up and flee.  Brown, however, who still had the power to escape, chose to remain.

*The next day, a detachment of US Marines arrived under the command of Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, who happened to be at his home near Washington on leave.  They surrounded the arsenal and sent the young Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart under a white flag to offer Brown the chance to surrender.  He refused and the Marines stormed the building.  Brown was beaten unconscious and arrested.

*Brown was tried for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia for trying to lead a revolution within the borders of the state.  and Brown was found guilty and sentenced to death.  He was hanged on 2 December 1859.  A few opponents of slavery, notably Harriet Tubman, considered him a hero for what he had done.  Others, such as Frederick Douglas (who knew of Brown’s plan before he tried it and advised him against it) considered Brown’s motives and dedication admirable, but his actions unwise and illegal, and Abraham Lincoln felt Brown was a lunatic who had done the cause of ending slavery far more harm than good by giving it a bad name through his violence.

*Other Northerners, who did not know Brown as well as these men, saw his execution as barely better than murder.  Some, though, agreed with his execution—whatever his ends, leading a rebellion and provoking the South were not admirable methods for achieving them.

*Nonetheless, to many Brown became a martyr, and in the coming years his soul would go marching on.

*At the 1860 Democratic Convention in Charleston, southern delegates walked out, effectively ending the convention before a candidate could be chosen.   Northern Democrats then met in Baltimore and nominated Stephen Douglas.  Feeling that their fellow Democrats had gone behind their back, Southern Democrats convened a rival convention in the same city, and nominated John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, a future Confederate general.

*Another group, composed mostly of Southerners who wanted to save the Union but who did not fit into the northern Republican Party, created the Constitutional Union Party hoping to elect a compromise candidate.  Also meeting in Baltimore, they chose John Bell of Tennessee, the state’s largest slave-owner.

*At the Republican convention in Chicago, Lincoln was definitely second choice, but he had few enemies in national politics, and was chosen on the third ballot.

*Lincoln won the election overall.  Furthermore, he did it entirely through Northern support.  This showed the South that the numerical superiority of the North was such that the North would be able to bully the south whenever it wanted.

*Lincoln was elected in November 1860.  On 20 December, at 1.15 in the afternoon, South Carolina dissolved her bonds with the Union.  The rationale was that South Carolina had always been a free state and sovereign state, only allied with the other United States as long as it was mutually beneficial to do so.  With the election of Lincoln, it was obvious the North had turned against the South and, even if Lincoln did not have evil designs on the South, the next Republican president might.

*In the long period between Lincoln’s election and his inauguration, six more states seceded.  In January, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana left the Union (in that order), and in February, Texas did so as well.

*The Deep South left the Union for many reasons.  Economic issues were important—the South was one of the largest importers and exporters of goods, and slaves were valuable property.  The South felt threatened by such things as the rebellion at Harper’s Ferry.  The failure to comply with—indeed, the wilful violation of—the Fugitive Slave Act was a constant insult to Southerners, as was Northern treatment of John Brown the traitor as a martyr.  Cotton was so profitable that Southerners began to feel that they could make it on their own, and no longer needed the North, which passed tariffs and other laws Southerners claims were meant to hurt them.

*Ostensibly the war would be about states’ rights, tariffs, and the expansion of slavery.  In a deeper sense, the disagreement over these issues was caused by the different systems (slave labour and free labour) of the South and North.  Slavery was always an economic threat to both northern factory owners and northern factory workers, especially once Southerners began using slaves in factories in the South.  Alternately, the South may have read too many novels by Sir Walter Scott.  Regardless of the reason, two ways of life would go to war with one another in America between 1861 and 1865, killing 2% of the population in the process.



This page last updated 24 August, 2005.