HONOURS GEOGRAPHY
Modern History of the United States and Canada


*Lincoln claimed he would not use force to bring the South back into the Union.  However, he did say he would continue to hold all US forts and other military installations in the South.  In truth, many soldiers and especially officers went over to the Confederacy, and many more just went home.  Only a couple federal forts remained manned in the South.  One of these was Fort Sumter in Charleston harbour, which was important economically and militarily, but also symbolically, as it was in the heart of secessionism.

*Major Robert Anderson, commander of Fort Sumter was asked to leave, and was told he could not be re-supplied.  Lincoln insisted that he would maintain the fort.  On 6 April, 1861, Lincoln warned the governor of South Carolina that he would soon be sending food, but no soldiers or weapons, to Sumter.  President Davis told General Beauregard to prevent this and to take the fort by force if Anderson will not surrender.

*12 April, after 24 hours of battle, Sumter surrenders without any casualties except a Confederate horse.

*Lincoln has pushed the South into firing the first shot, making the South look like the aggressor.

*Lincoln calls for troops—he wants 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion.

*Robert E. Lee is offered command of the US Army, but declines because he knows Virginia is likely to leave the Union.

*States in the Upper South, who had not wanted to secede, but who accepted the right of others to do so, refused to fight against other Southerners, and Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and on 8 June, 1861, Tennessee.  Richmond, Virginia becomes the capital of the CSA, less than 200 miles from Washington, D.C.

*When the War Between the States began, there were some significant differences between the USA and the CSA.

*The USA had 22 states (not counting those that had left), although it added a Kansas, West Virginia, and Nevada during the War.  Not all of those states were intensely loyal; Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri all considered leaving the Union, and all required some troops to keep them down.

*The CSA had 11 states, and they did not always get along (since the basic principle of the confederacy was that any state that wanted to could leave).

*The USA had a much larger population, (22 million compared to 9 million (of whom over 1/3 were slaves).  This is due in large part to a tremendous burst of immigration in the 1840s and 1850s, due to the potato famine in Ireland and a series of failed revolutions in Germany.  Although some of these immigrants ended up in the South, most ended up in the Northern factory cities and the farms of the Midwest.

*The North had most of the factories, and 70% of the railroad lines.  The USA, in the Midwest, also had some of the most fertile farmland in the world, and had enough men to farm it well.  The South was still dependent on exports, and so needed the help of foreign powers to stay afloat. 

*However, it was hoped that Britain and France would support the CSA, because they needed King Cotton.  To a small extent they did, especially Britain.  The northernmost land engagement of the War was actually launched from Canada against St Alban’s, Vermont.

*The commander of the US Army is the ancient veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, General Winfield Scott.  He has a plan:
 1.  Blockade the South
 2.  Cut the South in half by taking the Mississippi
 3.  Take Richmond

*This will work, but it derisively called the Anaconda Plan, because it meant to slowly strangle the south, and many expected to win quickly.  ‘On to Richmond!’ was the battle cry.
 
*The Confederacy means to simply fight a war of defence and attrition, hoping to keep out the Yankee invader until the North gets bored and gives up.

*Virginia saw more battles in the war than any other state, but Tennessee saw the second most, with over a thousand military engagements during the War.

*The war lasted four years, almost to the day, with General Lee surrendering on 9 April 1865.  Joseph Johnston surrendered later that month.  A few land battles occurred later, and the CSS Shenandoah did not give up until November, when she was surrendered to the British after sailing around the world.

*Over 3 million Americans fought in the war, and over 600,000 men, 2% of the population, died in it, mostly of disease, but many also from terrible new weapons.

*Most Americans are now using rifles firing Minie Balls, which have a useful range easily up to 500 yards, and which can travel much farther.    However, the generals all learnt to fight like Napoleon, and used line tactics much like those used in the Revolutionary War.  This led to many useless deaths (90% of the casualties).  Cannons in the Civil War, just as before, could fire not only solid shot, but also canister and shells.  Some of these were breechloaders, so they were faster to load (but did explode more) (9% of casualties).  Soldiers also used swords and bayonets, but they rarely got close enough to use them (1% of casualties).

*The war was fought almost entirely in the South (although Lee invaded the North twice, fighting once at Sharpsburg and once at Gettysburg), and afterwards the South was devastated.  Although fewer Southern soldiers were killed than were Yankees, they made up a much larger portion of the Southern population.

*The US Army had also destroyed much of the South outright.  Sherman, in his march through Georgia and the Carolinas, burned farms, railroads, and everything else he could, including Atlanta and Columbia.  Richmond was also burned during the war.

*Even more earth-shattering to the South was the Emancipation proclamation.  On 1 January, 1863, all slaves in states in rebellion were freed by Lincoln.  Shortly after the war, all slaves everywhere were freed by the XIII Amendment.  Suddenly, the entire social order was turned upside down, and thousands of people were turned out on the world without any jobs or any training for living on their own.  The plantation owners were also devastated financially; their slaves had represented a tremendous financial investment, and it was now completely eliminated.

*In many cases, what ended up happening was that the freedmen and the landowners realised that they still needed each other.  Many former slaves (and many poor whites) went to work on the old plantations, with each family having their own plot of land which they could either rent as tenant farmers, or which they could farm in return for giving the owner a share of the crop.  These were known as sharecroppers, and most ended up deep in debt, so that they could never advance in the world (or even leave).

*In addition, despite the fact that the former slaves were now free (and after the XIV and XV Amendments were passed, they were citizens with the right to vote), they tended to be discriminated against, kept from voting by force, and generally terrorised and abused.

*Eventually, to protect the blacks, Congress sent in the Army, and set up temporary governments in the South.  These tended to take voting rights away from whites, to run corrupt governments, and to be resented as invaders and occupiers.  This whole period was known as Reconstruction, and only ended in 1877 when a deal was made to settle the disputed Tilden-Hayes election.  After that, the South was free to enforce its black codes again for almost a century.

*Each Southern state created ‘black codes,’ laws that restricted the rights of freedmen.  These black codes contained oppressive provisions that included curfews (to keep blacks from gathering together after sunset), vagrancy laws (which let vagrants—blacks who did not work—be whipped, fined, or sentenced to a year’s labour and sold to a white man under a contract), labour contracts (obliging blacks to sign year-long contracts for which they were often paid at the end of the year so they could not quit), and land restrictions (allowing blacks to own or rent property only in rural areas, which essentially forced them to live on plantations).  Of course blacks could not vote, marry white people, own firearms, or exercise many other rights white people enjoy.

*The one triumph of the late 1860s was seen as a great mistake at the time.  This was Seward’s purchase of Alaska in 1867 from the Tsar of all the Russias, Alexander II, who wanted America as an ally to counterbalance Britain.  Seward got all of Alaska for $7.2 million.

*The Civil War was also important to Canada.  Many Irish immigrants in the USA saw the was as an opportunity to get military training so they could go back to Ireland and free it from British rule.  Between 1866 and 1871, a group of Irish-Americans called the Fenian Brotherhood invaded Canada to show their power.  The Canadians suffered some defeats, but ultimately ran the Fenians out every time.

*Still, Canadians worried about the Fenians, and were aware that the USA had managed to build a million-man army by 1865, and that it was a potential threat.

*Upper and Lower Canada had been officially joined by the Act of Union in 1840, but this had not gone well.  French had been outlawed (in the hopes that it would eventually die out), and, although the modern provinces of Ontario and Quebec were included, none of the Maritime Provinces or British Columbia were.  The French-speakers resented their second-class status, and used their resentment to unite into one voting bloc which kept everything deadlocked in the provincial legislature.

*In 1867, Canadian leaders, worried by the Fenian Raids and the power of the United States, produced a plan of confederation, that would join not just Quebec and Ontario, but also Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (Newfoundland was invited, but chose not to join until 1945).  Under this confederation, French would be a legal language, and would be protected.  Today Canada is officially bilingual (except in Quebec, where only French is official).

*On 1 July 1867 the British Parliament agreed to the plan of Confederation, and that day is still celebrated as Canada Day.  John MacDonald, one of the leaders of the confederation movement, became the first Prime Minister of Canada.  Despite the power that being a united country gave them, the Canadians were still largely governed by Great Britain, especially in foreign affairs.  Such business was managed by the governor-general, appointed by the Queen.

*In 1870, the land in Northern Canada, which had been owned privately by the Hudson Bay Company, was incorporated into Canada, in part as the Province of Manitoba, and the rest as the Northwest Territories.  In 1871, British Columbia joined the Confederation, and in 1873, Prince Edward Island did, too.  With the exception of Newfoundland, the rest of Canada’s provinces and territories would be carved out of the Northwest Territories in 1898, 1905, and 1999.

*Overall, the last third of the 19th century was a period of tremendous expansion.  This was helped tremendously in the United States by the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.  It ran from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento, California, and, for the first time, connected the east to the west by rail.  It was completed in 1869, and others like it followed.  Canada built her transcontinental railroad in 1885.

*The settlement permitted and supported by these railroads brought Americans into conflict with the Indians again, and the 1870s and 1880s were a period of numerous Indian wars.  The last battle of the Indian Wars was at Wounded Knee in 1890.

*This wave of settlement, fuelled in large part by immigration from Europe, began to fill up the west.  Of course, the west is to dry to really support a lot of people, but, by 1890, the frontier had been eliminated, or at least so broken up by pockets of settlement that it could no longer be said to exist.

*Americans were still energetic, though, and, in 1898, found an excuse to expand beyond the sea.  Spain still owned a few colonies, notably Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, and, particularly in Cuba, were known to be cruel masters.  The Cubans were attempting to rebel against Spain, and the US decided to help them.

*The Spanish-American War was quick and fairly harmless to America—Theodore Roosevelt made a name for himself leading the Rough Riders, and he called it a splendid little war.

*The US gained Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and some other minor islands during the war.  Cuba was also placed under US protection, and the US had the right to build a naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

*The problem was the occupation of the Philippines.  There, the US had also supposedly aided local freedom fighters, but once the war was over, they wanted their freedom, and ended up fighting the Americans instead for several years, in which over 4,000 US soldiers were killed (compared to a few hundred during the war).  Eventually peace was made, thanks in part to Governor Wm. H. Taft.

*In 1898, the US also acquired Hawaii, where local American settlers had overthrown the native queen.

*In 1901, TR became president, and while in office, took advantage of a rebellion in Columbia to cut off the state of Panama.  Because the US helped them gain independence, the US got the right to finish building the Panama Canal, tremendously shortening the trip from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

*In the early 20th Century, throughout the USA, although especially in the cities among the upper middle class, old private efforts at charity grew into a new movement for reform and progress.  These Progressives also wanted a powerful but responsible government, one that took an active role in improving society.  This led to waves of new laws regulating industry, business, and government, and providing forms of social welfare for those perceived to be the deserving needy.

*As America entered the 20th century, she did so with a feeling of great optimism, that science, technology, and perhaps even the government could, despite their flaws, make the world a better place.  Things were looking up in America at the turn of the century, and a sense of optimism, self-assurance, and even destiny filled the nation in the Progressive Era.

*The US had three progressive presidents, TR, Taft, and Wilson.  TR and Taft broke up many of the corrupt old businesses that had grown wealthy in the late 1800s, and passed laws for food and drug inspections and standards. 

*Wilson also wanted to make the world a better place, by making it safe for democracy.

*Wilson was elected president in 1912, and two years later, WWI began.  Canada, as part of the British Empire, was involved immediately on the side of the Allied Powers (against the Central Powers).  Wilson tried to keep the United States out of war, in part because most Americans wanted no part of it.  The US had followed both sides of the Monroe Doctrine for years:  the Doctrine said that the US would protect any free nation in the Western Hemisphere from European colonisation, and the implied reverse of that was that the US would stay out of the rest of the world.

*The Great War, as it was called at the time, was characterised by the use of new technology.  The most important were machine guns, poison gas, U-boats, and, to a much lesser extent, aircraft.

*Machine guns made it difficult for armies to attack one another.  Instead, troops pinned down by machine gun fire dug personal foxholes, then connected these foxholes with ditches that they expanded into trenches.  These in turn they made deeper and better and more extensive, with communications trenches connected them, bombproof shelters off the side of them, and twists and turns designed to isolate any invading enemy soldiers.  The trenches eventually stretched for hundreds of miles across the French countryside, which was completely cratered by shells until it looked like the surface of the moon.

*The war, at least in the West, devolved into a stalemate, with two vast armies sitting in trenches facing each other across no-man’s-land, and occasionally attacking one another and being mowed down by machine guns.  Millions of men were killed, almost an entire generation in all the European nations that took part in the War.

*Wilson won re-election in 1916 on the slogan ‘he kept us out of war,’ but he couldn’t keep us out forever.

*Most Americans preferred the Allies.  America remained an English nation, and furthermore, Americans heard and largely believed the propaganda Britain promulgated about the Germans, including tales of baby-eating (which would later backfire when people accused Hitler of killing millions of Jews—no-one would believe it or trust propaganda from Europe).  Germans in America (and there were many) were harassed, some even changed their names, and many Germanic names for things were changed, such as liberty cabbage and Salisbury steaks.

*Part of Germany’s strategy was to blockade Britain with U-boats, but this backfired.  In 1915, a German U-Boat fired upon a British passenger ship carrying several Americans (and, illegally and unknown at the time, a supply of weapons) and sank it.  1,200 passengers, including 128 Americans, died.  Many Americans wanted to go to war, but Wilson refused.

*In 1917, the British intercepted and decoded a German telegram from Arthur Zimmerman, the foreign secretary, making an offer to Mexico.  If Mexico would help Germany and attack the United States, Germany would return to Mexico all the land that Polk took from them during the Mexican War.  Wilson and America were angry about the Zimmerman note, but still Wilson counselled peace.

*In March, the Germans sank three more American ships, and even Wilson, who had campaigned for office with the slogan ‘he kept us out of war’ felt compelled to ask for a declaration of war, which he got, although there was some dissent.  One of the pacifists who voted against the war resolution was Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman in Congress.  She was not re-elected the next time around, and would only return to Congress in 1941, when she would vote against going to war with Japan.

*At Wilson’s behest, America went to war, but not for conquest or power or prestige, but to defeat the tyrants who began the war, and make the world safe for Democracy.  This Great War, Wilson said, would be the last war—it was a war to end war.

*In 1918 it looked as if Paris would fall and the Central Powers would win.

*At this point, the American Expeditionary Force arrived.  The General of the Armies, ‘Black Jack’ John Pershing, said ‘Lafayette, we are here.’

*The AEF was not especially well-trained or well-equipped, and the Americans were not significantly better soldiers than their enemies.  However, they were ready to fight, not worn out by three years of war and bitterness. *Re-enforced by the AEF, the Allies stopped the attack on Paris.  The AEF was involved in three major battles:  Château-Thierry, the first major battle for Americans, Belleau Wood, where the US Marine Corps fought so hard and lost so many men that afterwards the French government gave the land to the United States, and along the Marne River, where the Germans were stopped for good.

*The allies counter-attacked along the Meuse River and in the Argonne Forest.  This offensive began on 26 September, 1918, and would be the last of the War.

*The Meuse-Argonne is famous for its heroism among the eager American troops.  The most decorated soldier of the war was Sergeant Alvin York, a backwoodsman from Fentress County, Tennessee.  His family’s farm was poor, and he had to supplement their diet by hunting, and became a crack shot.  A devout Christian after a changing his ways following the death of a friend in a bar fight, he opposed the war and did not want to go, but was drafted and not let out as a conscientious objector.  On 8 October, 1918, his patrol was ordered to destroy a machine gun nest.  Unable to do so, most of the unit hid, but York, the sharpshooter, picked off 25 machine-gunners at 50 or 60 yards, and then captured 132 other Germans.  He received, among other decorations, the Medal of Honor.

*By November, 1918, the Germans would have had enough.

*By the fall of 1918, all the world was tired of war.  Depending on the source, anywhere from 8 million to 14 million people had been killed in the war, and over 20 million had been wounded, many badly.  The world had also suffered an epidemic of Spanish Influenza in the spring, which alone killed 30 million people worldwide (including perhaps 500,000 Americans).  People in many places, especially Germany, were starving, and the peoples of some nations were so weary that they were ready to turn against their governments.

*The Treaty of Versailles that ended the war did so while demanding terrible reparations from Germans, and the US never ratified it.  Instead, the US turned inwards.

*One change brought about by the Great War was that women had to take up factory work and other work usually done by men, and as a result, came to demand more political power.  In 1918, Canada gave women the right to vote in national elections (most provinces already allowed it in local elections), and in 1920 Tennessee became the last state needed to ratify the XIX Amendment, giving women the right to vote in the USA.

*The 1920s were a period of tremendous prosperity for the USA, but in 1929, the stock market crashed, and American fortunes were wiped out.  This was the start of the Great Depression in both the USA and Canada (with unemployment of 25% and underemployment higher than that).

*In response, the USA elected FDR, who promised a New Deal.  This offered a number of government programmes to create jobs and regulate the economy.  This was the beginning of welfare and of Big Government in America, after which Americans expected the government to look out for them all the time.

*The New Deal was so powerful that it changed the face of the Earth.  From a geographical point of view, the most significant of the many New Deal Programmes was TVA.  It was actually suggested by a Nebraskan, Senator George Norris, after whom Norris Lake is named.

*TVA built dams on rivers all around the Tennessee River valley (including tributaries of the Tennessee).  This provided flood control, recreational lakes, jobs for the unemployed (in dam construction), and, most importantly, cheap electricity. 

*Norris Dam was the first one built (finished in 1936).  Watauga Dam was finished in 1948, and was the largest earthen dam in the world at the time (now the largest is in India; the Hirakud Dam, at Sambalpur, is the world’s largest earthen dam and supports several hydroelectric plants).  Boone Dam was finished in 1952.

*What really pulled the USA out of the Depression was WWII.  This began in Europe when Hitler invaded Poland, and the rest of Europe finally decided to stand up to him (they had not when he invaded Austria and Czechoslovakia).  Canada followed Britain into the war, and Canadians served bravely around the world.  The USA tried to stay out of it, though.

*However, the Japanese were angry that the US had cut off supplies of iron, oil, and other goods they needed in reaction to the Japanese invasion of Viet-Nam.  They decided they needed to strike a decisive blow against the United States.

* *December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

*On Sunday morning at 7 o’clock, the Japanese launched an attack on the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor just outside Honolulu, Hawaii.  By 9.45, 2,400 Americans would be dead and 1,200 more wounded, and eight of our nine battleships, as well as many other ships, would be damaged or sunk, some with men trapped inside who took days to die of starvation.

*Shortly afterwards, the Japanese ambassador brought a message that was supposed to have been delivered earlier.  It made demands that the US would have been forced to refuse, after which war would have been declared.  Because it got there late, the Japanese were correctly accused of a sneak attack, and the United States Congress declared war on Japan on 8 December, 1941.  Even the America First Committee supported the war now.  Only one person in the entire Congress was opposed:  Jeannette Rankin of Montana.

*On 11 December 1941, Germany and Italy, to help their ally Japan, declared war on the United States.  Over two years after the invasion of Poland, the United States was involved in the Second World War, a war, Roosevelt said, to make the world safe for Democracy.

*This immediately employed millions of men, both in the army and in factories to produce war materiel.

*To fight the war, the US built a massive army, navy, and air force, and deployed them around the world, but did so carefully.  Although many Americans died, the nation was so populous and had so many resources, that America emerged from the war as the dominant power on the globe in 1945.  This was due, in part, to being the first country in the world to develop a nuclear bomb, two of which were dropped on Japan in August 1945, helping to end the war quickly.

*The Axis were defeated, of course, but even most of the allies had spent all their resources to defeat them.

*The only other power was the Soviet Union.  During the war, they had taken over most of Eastern Europe (going so far as to divide Germany into two countries), and wanted to export their ideas of communism as far as they could.

*The period between 1945 and 1990 was essentially a long standoff between the US and the USSR called the Cold War.  Although the two nations countries never fought directly, they did so by proxy.  They sponsored opposing sides in both Korea (1950-1953) and Viet-Nam (1954-1975).

*During this period, the United States sponsored the United Nations and NATO (and other treaty organisations) to have allies against international communism.

*In the 1980s under Ronald Reagan, the United States spent so much money on the military, that the Soviet Union could not keep up.  In addition, while this was going on, the US still had the resources for luxuries that the Soviets did not.  As the Soviet people (and their subject peoples in Eastern Europe) became aware of this, more and more of them demanded change.

*In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, and Germany was allowed to begin reuniting.  In 1990, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia declared themselves independent from the Soviet Union.  In 1991, government insiders and the military attempted to overthrow Mikhail Gorbechev, the leader of the USSR, because they felt he was too weak.  However, the coup was defeated, but the USSR collapsed anyway, into 15 different countries.

*The United States had won the Cold War, but at the cost of going deep into debt to out-spend the Soviets.

*During this period, Canada also changed a great deal.  Newfoundland was finally added to Canada in 1949, and the territory of Nunavut was carved out of the Northwest Territories in 1999, to serve as a homeland for the Inuit. 

*However, Canada has several times nearly lost Quebec.  In 1980, a referendum was held in Quebec, and only 60% voted to stay in Canada.

*Partly in response to this, Canada adopted, or rather was granted, a new constitution in 1982, in which Britain gave Canada their own constitution (the document used to be kept in London for safekeeping), and gave Canada the power to control their own constitution.  This finally cut almost all legal ties between Canada and Britain, making Canada essentially an independent country in all ways.

*Still, Quebec also wanted to be a country, and in 1995 held another referendum, in which only 50.6% of Quebecois voted to remain in Canada.  Since then, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that it would be illegal for Quebec to unilaterally declare itself independent from Canada.

*In recent years, the United States and Canada have acted together in the world.  Both fought against Iraq in 1991 in the Persian Gulf War, Canada supported the USA after the 11 September 2001 attacks (allowing US planes to land in Canada), and both went to war with Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban in 2001. 

*In 2003, however, Canada chose not to follow the USA into Iraq, and since then the countries have differed over other issues.  Canada (as a whole) takes a more tolerant view of marijuana use and homosexual marriage than the US does.

*Today, Canada and the United States remain close trading partners and cultural allies, although much of Canada’s culture today (like much of their political history in the past) is based on reactions to (and often against) the United States.




This page last updated 24 August, 2005.