ADVANCE PLACEMENT
AMERICAN HISTORY

REMEMBER THE ALAMO!

*In August, 1831, Nat Turner, a black preacher, led Turner’s Rebellion.  70 slaves attacked white families and killed over 50 white men, women, and children in Southeastern Virginia.  Eventually the militia captured and hanged Turner and about 20 of his followers.  Other angry whites rioted, and killed about an hundred more blacks, none of whom had (probably) had anything to do with the rebellion.

*As a result of these rebellions, Southerners grew increasingly afraid of their own slaves.  Although Virginia briefly considered ending slaver, she decided not to, and all Southern states made laws about slaves much tougher.  It became much harder to free a slave so there would not be so many free blacks to cause trouble.  It became illegal to send anti-slavery literature through the mail in the South, and it became illegal to teach slaves to read in some states.  The movements of slaves were also restricted, and it was made hard for them to meet together.  This harshness in turn encouraged the growing abolitionist movement (of which John Quincy Adams was an eloquent advocate in Congress) to push harder for the end of slavery.
*During Jackson’s presidency, the expansion of the West was proceeding with such alacrity that it outpaced the borders of the United States.  In 1823, Stephen Austin led a group of 300 families into the Bravos River region of the province of Texas in the newly independent Republic of Mexico.

*Mexico initially wanted people to settle this region, and encouraged Americans who would convert to Catholicism and swear loyalty to Mexico to come into the area.  Americans obliged in great numbers, although those who officially converted to Catholicism and swore loyalty usually did so in name only.  The immigrants also brought their slaves with them and continued to practise that institution, even though Mexico had outlawed slavery.

*Many of these new Texans were reprobates and scoundrels fleeing from the law, but a few were distinguished men.  Samuel Houston was from Tennessee, having lived many years near Maryville and having practiced law in Lebannon. He had been adopted by the Cherokee and was called among them ‘The Raven,’ and at one point he took a Cherokee wife.  He was a former governor of and congressman from Tennessee and an ally of Jackson, and arrived in Texas in 1832, after leaving Tennessee, a divorced white wife, an abandoned Cherokee wife, and many empty liquor bottles behind him.  Davy Crockett was also from Tennessee.  Born in Greene County, he was famous as a frontiersman, hunter—he supposedly killed 105 bears, storyteller, and Congressman.  Elected to two non-consecutive terms in the House of Representatives, he opposed Jackson on the issue of Indian Removal and other points, lost an election in 1835, and 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 becomes dictator of Mexico and abolishes local governments in Texas, or tries to.  With both their liberty and property under threat, the American settlers in Texas declare independence and Santa Anna marches his army north and the Texas War for Independence begins in 1835.

*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, the 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.

*During Jackson’s presidency, especially towards the end, he was criticised for many of his policies.  His numerous vetoes, especially those of the Maysville Road Bill and the Bank recharter, were seen as the acts of a tyrant—of King Andrew I.  Hitherto, the few presidential vetoes had been over serious constitutional issues.  Jackson saw his as being so, too, but his opponents saw them as simple politics.

*Jackson’s enemies, by 1836, had organised a new party, which they called the Whig party, after the British political party that had opposed a strong monarchy in Great Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries—the American Whigs planned to oppose King Andrew and his followers in the same way.

*Many different types of people became Whigs.  Some were supporters of the American System, like Clay.  Some were staunch advocates of States’ Rights, like Calhoun.  Others were Northern industrialists and merchants, and those who supported their interests, like Webster.  Still others were evangelical Protestants and reformers such as the former members of the Anti-Masonic Party.  What they all had in common, however, was a hatred for Jackson.

*In 1836, the Democrats and the Whigs held their party conventions to chuse their candidates for the presidency.  Jackson used his influence to get his Vice-President, Martin van Buren, nominated.  The Whigs, hoping to split the vote and throw the election in the House of Representatives where their great statesmen such as Clay, Calhoun, and Webster might be able to sway the vote, ran three candidates:  William Henry Harrison, Governor of Ohio (the great war hero), Hugh L. White Senator from Tennessee, and Daniel Webster, Senator from Massachusetts.

*The Whigs did split the vote, but they mostly split their own, and van Buren won with more than twice as many votes than the second-place candidate (Harrison).

*Jackson retired to the Hermitage, his plantation in Nashville, having left his stamp on American politics.  Many of his policies were harmful, but he himself had been quite popular, and retired as a hero in the eyes of his people.  Any problems he left behind would simply fall under the purview of his successor, van Buren who, though very intelligent and able in most cases, was unable to perform well as a president or to fill Jackson’s shoes in terms of personal force of public affection.  He also had many tangible problems to face.

*There were rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada in 1837 and 1838.  The Rebellion of 1837 was about Quebecois in Lower Canada wanting more representation and more consideration for the culture, and about radical reformers in Upper Canada wanting a more representative form of government—some even wanted to create a republic—the were tired of wealthy leaders spending their taxes on roads and canals.

*Anti-slavery agitators were in an uproar about the recognition of Texas, the treatment of slaves in the South, and any talk of expansion to the West.

*Worst of all, van Buren inherited all the problems caused by the destruction of the Bank of the United States, which, combined with other problems, led to the depression called the Panic of 1837.

*Over-speculation in land, inflation caused by excess printing of paper money, and the lack of control exercised by the pet banks (which themselves often acted imprudently) created a very unstable economic atmosphere.  Jackson’s Specie Circular pushed things over the edge by suddenly halting speculation and inflation, and causing banks to fail.  Not coincidentally, grain prices rose, and there were food riots in New York City.

*In addition to these domestic problems two prominent British banks failed, which caused English investors, who had lent money to American banks and businesses, to call in their loans, breaking more American banks and bankrupting more businessmen.

*The Whigs called for the expansion of bank credit, for a return to a system like that of the old Bank of the United States, and for subsidies for internal improvements, thinking these would not only improve the nation in general, but would also boost the economy by creating jobs and by facilitating commerce by building new roads and canals.

*Van Buren stood by his Jacksonian principles, and would not let the government interfere with the economy.  He felt that, if anything, it was still too involved, and that was probably part of the problem.  He introduced what was called the ‘Divorce Bill,’ because it was meant to divorce the government’s funds (and thus the government) from the public banking system (and thus the general economy).

*The ‘Divorce Bill’ was properly called the Independent Treasury Bill, because it would have created an independent treasury.  Such an institution would have taken all government specie and locked it away in vaults in the Treasury building, and in subtreasury buildings in major cities.  This would keep the money safe, and available to the government, but out of the economy at large.

*This was more stable than the system of Jackson’s pet banks, but it did not let the government do much to manage the national economy the way it could have if it had been more directly involved in banking.  While the lack of paper money made the economy more stable, it also made it harder for people to buy land and make other major investments, because with a fixed supply of money, the money supply could not expand or contract to meet the needs of the public.  In periods of prosperity, revenue surpluses accumulated in the Treasury, reducing hard money circulation, tightening credit, and restraining even legitimate expansion of trade and production. In periods of depression and panic, when banks suspended specie payments and hard money was hoarded, the government's insistence on being paid in specie tended to aggravate economic difficulties by limiting the amount of specie available for private credit.

*The Independent Treasury Bill was passed but would soon be repealed, as the Whigs would come to power in the election of 1840.
 

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This page last updated 19 October, 2003.