THE NORTH, THE SOUTH, AND THE UNION
*While the North had become industrialised and the West was growing wealthy from the production of food crops such as corn, wheat, hogs, and cattle, the South, thanks to the cotton gin and the immense profits to be made in the production of that staple (and the South’s tradition of staple production) has become more and more dependent on cotton. In the South, Cotton is King.
*In many southern states, especially along the Gulf Coast, the state economies depended almost entirely on cotton, although the Upper South had other crops such as tobacco, and even some grain and cattle. The cotton produced in the South was then shipped up north or to Britain to be processed in their textile mills—the South had few of their own.
*The South’s economy depended on slavery, and it was in most ways at its worst in the Deep South. Although not so nice in any place, the vast plantations in the cotton belt with hundreds of slaves on any given farm were run with great discipline and the numerous slaves were worked hard. However, most Southerners did not own many slaves—even the majority of cotton was produced on farms with six or fewer slaves, and only about a quarter of slaves lived on huge plantations with more than fifty slaves.
*In the South, farming had always been important, and it became increasingly romanticised in the 19th century. To be a plantation owner was the highest role in society, and everyone wanted to be one. Many could not afford it, and at any given time, about one third of white Southerners owned slaves, although it varied from state to state.
*Most of the South’s wealth was tied up in the investment of slavery. Although the South only had about 30% of the US’ free population, 60% of the nation’s wealthiest people lived there.
*Slaves, of course, were human property for life and for their children forever. The end of the slave trade had increased the cost of slaves immensely. By 1837, a healthy field worker cost $1,300 (about $52,000 to-day, or more), but only cost from $15 to $60 a year to support.
*Understandably, many slaves did not
like their position, and some revolted.
*In 1800 Denmark Vesey bought his freedom with $600 he won in the lottery. He became a preacher, and told slaves to resist their masters, as slavery was against the Bible and the Declaration of Independence. In 1822 he planned a revolt that would seize Charleston, capture the local arsenal, kill all the whites in town, free all the slaves, and burn the city down. One of his co-conspirators warned the whites, though, and Vesey and 34 other blacks were hanged.
*In August, 1831, Nat Turner, also a black preacher, led Turner’s Rebellion. 70 slaves attacked white families and killed over 50 white men, women, and children in South-eastern 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.
*On the national scene, James Monroe was President. His eight years in office were largely devoid of political party struggles, because the Federalist party had fallen apart after the Hartford Convention. Monroe was elected by a vote short by only one of unanimity. During his presidency, he and many other politicians tried to draw the nation closer together, despite the economic and social motives drawing the sections apart. Many of these nationalists also tried to make the nation stronger in order to promote this unity.
*During this period, the Supreme Court under John Marshall (and old Federalist appointed by John Adams), tried to make the central government more powerful and society more stable, and he used the power of judicial review to do so. In Dartmouth College v. Woodward, he demonstrated that the state of New Hampshire (and no other state) could mess with a private charter or contract. In McCulloch v. Maryland he ruled (using loose construction) that Congress had the power to charter a national bank and that the states could not tax it. In Gibbons v. Ogden, Marshall ruled that the federal government could regulate interstate water trade. This took state regulations off the steamboat trade and other industries, which helped to settle the West.
*Internationally, Monroe wanted to ease tensions with Great Britain following the War of 1812. In the Rush-Bagot Agreement, Britain and the US set the border between the US and Canada, and reduced the number of warships on the Great Lakes.
*Monroe also wanted to protect the
new republics in South and Central America. During the Napoleonic
Wars, Latin American nations began declaring independence from Spain and
fight for it during the 1810s and 1820s. To protect these new nations,
Monroe and his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams issued the Monroe Doctrine,
which had four points:
1. The US would not get involved in the internal affairs of European nations or get into their wars.
2. The US recognised any existing colonies or nations in the Western Hemisphere and would not interfere with them.
3. The US would not permit any further colonisation of the Western Hemisphere.
4. Any attempt by Europeans to take control of any nation in the Western Hemisphere would be seen as a hostile action against the US.
The US did not really have the power to enforce this, but fortunately the British thought it was a good idea, and quietly helped out, and it set a precedent by which America could stand in future decades when the US were powerful enough to enforce this.
*The Era of Good Feelings ended in 1824 with a highly controversial election.
*There were four important contenders
in this race:
1. John Quincy Adams: son of a president, currently serving as Secretary of State, and known to be a brilliant and experienced diplomat, he was also a strong nationalist, and hoped to build a national university.
2. Henry Clay: ‘Harry of the West,’ Speaker of the House and a brilliant speechmaker and a nationalist, he had supported the War of 1812 to win more land for the US, and he supported the Bank of the United States, the National Road, and tariffs to protect business.
3. John C. Calhoun: Monroe’s Secretary of War, he had initially been a nationalist, supporting the Bank, high tariffs, and other national projects, but he eventually turns more and more to states’ rights, working more for South Carolina than the other states, which will eventuall oppose him to strong government.
4. Andrew Jackson: Formerly attorney-general of the Mero District, Tennessee Representative, war hero of Horseshoe Bend, New Orleans, and Florida, he was called ‘Old Hickory’ because he was so tough. He was also famous as a duelist and was considered by the other contenders to be an ignorant, backwoods redneck.
*All these men but Adams were Southerners and slaveholders.
*Every man involved called himself a Republican because there were no other parties at the moment, and it was a close race filled with bitterness and mudslinging—Jackson was called a murderer and Adams was accused of being a pimp for the Tsar of Russia.
*This election was so close that it could not be decided by the Electoral College. Because no-one had the majority of the votes, the election would be decided by the House or Representatives. Afterwards, what happened was called the corrupt bargain. Adams was chosen President and he made Clay Secretary of State. Jackson and his supporters claimed that Speaker of the House Clay engineered this. Incidentally, it is one of only two times the House has had to determine the presidency in this way (the other being in 1800).
*Adams has a fairly unproductive presidency. Jackson’s supporters in Congress block his nationalist programmes, and the big Republican Party splits into National Republicans and Jacksonian Democrats, who will go at it again in 1828.
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This page last updated 16 September, 2003.