The Anglo-American Adventure
Chapter 3: Pioneer America, Part I
1783 to 1861 (USA), 1783 to 1867 (Canada)
This paper is divided into four parts, which cover the following topics:
Unfinished Business With the Tories
At the end of the previous chapter, we mentioned that three of the four corners of the new United States were poorly defined by the 1783 Treaty of Paris. One consequence of this was that seven forts near the Great Lakes, in modern-day Michigan, Indiana and New York, remained under British control. From west to east, these forts were Michilimackinac, Detroit, Miami, Niagara, Oswego, Oswegatchie, and Pte-au-Fer. The British stayed in the forts, in an effort to get the Americans to keep their promise to compensate those Loyalists who had lost land and other valuables during the Revolution. Unfortunately the US government, for reasons explained later, was too weak to compel the states to honor this part of the treaty. In the end the "Tories" were never reimbursed, and 80,000 of them left the United States; 41,000 went to Canada, while the rest headed for other parts of the British Empire, mostly to the Caribbean and Great Britain itself. Some of the Loyalists were ex-slaves, and they tried going back to Africa, settling at Freetown, a new British outpost in Sierra Leone.
Those departing Loyalists were not missed, because US population was now growing by 80,000 to 100,000 every year. However, the impact on Canada was dramatic, causing the total population to jump by at least 30 percent, and requiring an extreme makeover of the administration in order to accommodate the newcomers. Until now, British-ruled Canada was divided into five provinces: Quebec (the former New France), St. John's Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Rupert's Land (the area claimed by Hudson's Bay Company). Most of the new arrivals, 34,000 of them, went to Nova Scotia, tripling that colony's population. Previously Nova Scotia had included New Brunswick; in 1784 New Brunswick and Cape Breton Island were separated from the Acadian peninsula, to better accommodate the increased population.(1) In Quebec the governor, Frederick Haldimand, decreed that the English-speaking newcomers should not be merged into the French communities, whose culture and laws were protected by the Quebec Act of 1774. At his direction, 6,000 of the 7,000 Loyalists who went to Quebec were relocated to the upper St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario, putting a safe distance between them and the French-Canadian cities on the lower St. Lawrence.
The Loyalist influx meant that the number of English-speaking Canadians was now almost equal to the number of French speakers. In 1791 Quebec was divided, to better handle this demographic change, into Upper Canada (modern Ontario) and Lower Canada (modern Quebec). Thanks to the actions of Governor Haldimand, Upper Canada was mostly English-speaking from the start. In 1798 St. John's Island was renamed Prince Edward Island, after the prince who would someday become the father of Queen Victoria, because England had enough places named St. John already, and the nomenclature was getting confusing.
A small but significant portion of the Loyalists were Iroquois Indians who had fought with the British. Their leader was the Mohawk chief Thayendanegea, better known by Christian name, Joseph Brant. He was a veteran of the French and Indian War, Pontiac's Rebellion, and the western campaigns of the American Revolution, so after the Treaty of Paris was signed, the British set aside two reserves north of Lake Erie, called the Six Nations of the Grand River, for him and his followers. Joseph Brant was also an Anglican missionary on the side, and in 1785 he founded Her Majesty's Royal Chapel of the Mohawks, an Episcopal church, at Brantford; it is the oldest church in Ontario.
West of the Great Lakes, the land drained by the Assiniboine River and Red River of the North (parts of modern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Minnesota) was ceded by Hudson's Bay Company in 1811 to a Scottish noble, Thomas Douglas, the 5th Earl of Selkirk, as a new colony. Selkirk called it Assiniboia, while others called it the Red River Colony, and Selkirk used it as a new home to resettle destitute Scots from the old country.
When MacKenzie arrived in the Athabasca region (1788), he found that the rivers and lakes all emptied into a great river that flowed to the northwest--an encouraging sign, because it meant he was already outside the Hudson Bay watershed. Unfortunately for him, this river did not go to the Pacific, as he had hoped, but to the Arctic Ocean, meaning it was nearly useless for transportation. He named it the "Disappointment River," but today it is called the MacKenzie River, in honor of its discoverer; it is the second longest river in North America, after the Mississippi-Missouri chain.
MacKenzie had better luck on his second expedition, in 1793. He marched west over the Continental Divide, found the Fraser River on the other side of the Rockies, and followed it to the sea, reaching the Pacific at Bella Coola, British Columbia. However, the local Indians, the Nuxalk, were hostile because of some bad experiences with Europeans hunting for sea otter pelts, so he painted these words on a rock: "Alex Mackenzie from Canada by land 22nd July 1793" and then returned to "Canada." The words on that rock are still visible today, and this was the first known crossing of the continent anywhere north of the Rio Grande.
Two other fur traders from the North West Company completed the exploration of British Columbia by land. Simon Fraser established four forts between 1805 and 1808, the first in Canada west of the Rockies, and then explored the parts of the Fraser River that MacKenzie missed. David Thompson followed the Columbia River from its source to its mouth in 1811, and produced maps of the Columbia River basin so detailed that they were still considered accurate a century later.
However, the above expeditions marked the end of good times for the North West Company. After 1810 both they and Hudson's Bay Company suffered an economic slump because they had hunted too many fur-bearing animals, especially beavers. The destruction of Sault Ste. Marie, a North West Company outpost, by the Americans during the War of 1812, made it even more difficult to earn a living. Worst of all, the two companies had trouble telling the difference between a trade war and a real shooting war. This conflict was called the Pemmican War (1814-16), because it started over a dispute involving pemmican, an Indian food made from dried meat, berries and bone marrow fat. The first crops raised in the new Red River Colony did not produce much of a harvest, and the local governor banned the export of food, including pemmican, to prevent starvation. Fur traders and explorers liked pemmican because it was easy to transport and could be stored for a long time, so this threatened their livelihood; the North West Company tried to smuggle it out anyway, with the cooperation of the tribe they bought it from, the half-French Métis. Employees of the Northwest Company twice destroyed Fort Douglas (modern Winnipeg), the main settlement in the colony; in 1816 their Métis allies, led by Cuthbert Grant, seized a supply of pemmican belonging to Hudson's Bay Company, and killed 22 HBC men when they tried to take it back (the battle of Seven Oaks). Lord Selkirk responding by sending in a hundred British soldiers, to restore peace and take the North West Company's outpost at Fort William, Ontario. Nobody really won; Selkirk was left almost bankrupt, and several of the North West Company's most important partners quit, fearing that the Company could no longer earn a profit. In 1821 the British government ended the rivalry by ordering the North West Company to sign an agreement that merged it with Hudson's Bay Company. Since the North West Company claimed all land north and west of Rupert's Land, this technically went to the HBC, too, and was called the North-Western Territory, but it wasn't given any sort of territorial organization until after Canada became independent.
Meanwhile, some other explorers reached Canada's Pacific coast by sea. The first to arrive after Captain Cook was an Englishman, John Meares, who explored the coast in the 1780s and finally found the elusive Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1788. Then a Spanish expedition, led by José María Narvaéz, landed in the neighborhood of modern Vancouver 1791. More important, however, was the expedition by George Vancouver in 1792, which succeeded in claiming nearby Vancouver Island for Britain. Spain had just seized Nootka Sound, the place on the island where Cook had gathered furs, and when Vancouver arrived there, he found Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, the Spanish officer who had done so much to explore the Pacific Northwest in the 1770s, in charge of Nootka. The two leaders got along quite well, and they did not want to go to war if at all possible, so they requested further instructions from London and Madrid. The result was a 1794 treaty in which Spain dropped its claim. Bodega y Quadra insisted that the island they were standing on be named after both of them, so it was called Quadra & Vancouver Island for a while; after his death the name was shortened to Vancouver Island, but it's not clear whether that was intentionally done to erase a bit of Spanish history.
Britain had its way because it was enforcing the same policy with Spain that it had enforced with France; it would only recognize the claims and colonies of other nations if they did something with the land they said was theirs. This meant that as long as Spain did not have any permanent settlements north of San Francisco, Spanish claims to places like Oregon were meaningless, and that everything between Alaska and California was up for grabs until somebody settled there. Besides the British, Spaniards and Russians, the Americans now entered the game; an American captain, Robert Gray, explored the Columbia River in 1792, and claimed it for the United States.
In California, however, the Spaniards did make a determined effort to stake their claim. In Chapter 2 we saw Father Junipero Serra setting up seven missions along the California coast, and a presidio at San Diego. By 1820, the territory north of San Diego had three more presidios (at Monterey, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara) and a total of twenty-one missions. In 1804 the Spanish government divided California into two territories, which it named Baja and Alta (upper) California, for administrative purposes; the missions in Alta California were all run by Franciscans, while Dominicans founded all but one of the Baja California missions (the exception was the one Father Serra started there).
Up in Alaska, the Russians established settlements on Kodiak Island in 1783, and at Sitka in 1799. In addition, there were Russian trading posts in the Copper River area, on the Kenai peninsula, in the Aleutians, and all along the islands, rivers and coastline of the Bering Sea. This was good enough to keep the British out until the 1820s, when the Russian American Company and Hudson's Bay Company started competing with one another.
Unfortunately, getting the Articles of Confederation approved was the least of its problems. Under it, the central government was weak to the point of being nonexistent; to an outside observer, it may not have been clear whether the United States of America was one nation or thirteen (As late as 1787, residents of Maryland called their state "the nation."). The central government could not collect taxes, only request money from the states. Likewise, it had an army, but could not compel any state to contribute troops, so in practice the Confederation army never had more than 840 soldiers. This caused George Washington to remark that the Confederation government was "little more than a shadow without substance."(3) The central government could not regulate foreign or domestic commerce, except to provide a standard system of weights and measures and serve as a final court to settle disputes between states. Each state only had one vote in Congress, no matter how many representatives were assigned to it--this discriminated in favor of the smaller states. The president of the Congress was elected by the other members, served a one-year term, received no salary, and had almost no powers at all.(4) On top of all this, it took a two-thirds majority (9 out of 13 states) to pass most legislation, and the Articles themselves could only be amended by a unanimous vote of the states. The Articles of Confederation had been written in the middle of a war, when many Patriots feared replacing British tyranny with a tyranny of their own, so they ended up establishing a national government that gave them freedom, but little else.
In one area the Articles of Confederation got something done: it successfully resolved land disputes between the states. There was a real danger that conflicting claims to the territories could someday lead to war; for example, both New York and New Hampshire claimed the Green Mountain territory between them. The biggest potential danger was in the territory south of Tennessee (modern Mississippi, Alabama and western Georgia), because both Spain and Georgia wanted it; this was called the Southern Territory or the Yazoo Territory. Spain, in fact, kept three forts in the area after the American Revolution ended (Fort Walnut Hills and Fort Natchez in Mississippi, and Fort St. Stephens in Alabama), and the Spaniards would not allow American boats on the Mississippi River to pass through New Orleans. In each case, the Congress of the Confederation applied the principle that no territory would become part of an existing state; it would be organized as a new state when enough settlers (usually 60,000) filled it. In the case of the Green Mountain territory, it became the 14th state, Vermont.
The original thirteen states, with the lands they claimed before 1787.
In the middle zone west of the Appalachians, settlement was already progressing nicely; land-hungry pioneers from Virginia and North Carolina had begun moving into Kentucky and Tennessee respectively, while the Revolution was going on (see Chapter 2), and at the rate the local population was growing, it would reach a critical mass in both territories before long. The Southern Territory, however, would have to wait as long as Spain claimed part of it, calling it "West Florida." That left the land north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi, the "Northwest Territory," which so far was inhabited only by Indians and those previously mentioned British forts. In 1785 a land ordinance was passed to survey this and other unorganized territories: surveyors would divide the land into plots called townships, which would be six miles long and six miles wide, and part of each township would be set aside for the building of schools, beginning the public education system in the United States. This was followed by the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, which called for rapid development of the territory, with the intention of turning it into three to five new states.
The Northwest Territory.
Another thing worth remembering about the Northwest Ordinance is the compromise reached by northern and southern states, in order to get enough support for it. Slavery had never been as widely practiced in the North as it was in the South; the North was too cold to grow the crops that normally used slave labor, like tobacco, and workshops were always more productive with paid workers. Thus, Northerners were more receptive to the speeches and literature of Abolitionists, who called slavery a cruel punishment that should not be imposed on anyone. The first Abolitionist movement in the United States was launched by the Quakers in 1775, just two years after the first Abolitionists got organized in England. When Abolitionists looked at documents like the Declaration of Independence, nowhere could they find any instance where the Founding Fathers had talked about freedom and said, "except for Negroes." Soon northern state governments would agree, and pass anti-slavery laws, so slavery was already on the way out in the North. Many Southerners, on the other hand, felt that they needed slaves working for nothing, in order to compete against farms and industries using paid workers. In return for agreeing to a ban on slavery north of the Ohio River, the South received a promise that no more than five new states would be created from the Northwest Territory.(5) Slaveowners were starting to get concerned that if the number of states without slaves ever exceeded the number of states with slaves, they would use their majority in Congress to ban slavery everywhere. By controlling the number of states that could come out of the territories, Southerners had a fighting chance to create new slave states in the South, to offset every new free state created in the North. This was the first of several compromises we will see during this period, done to maintain the balance between the North and the South.(6)
A typical slave advertisement in the eighteenth century. And you think today's commercials are in bad taste!
In May 1786, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina proposed that Congress revise the Articles of Confederation, so that Congress could collect taxes from state treasuries and have more control over commerce. Similar concerns were expressed by James Madison of Virginia, and Alexander Hamilton of New York, who argued that a strong federal government was needed to end violence, administer the country properly, and put the best men in charge (Hamilton's definition of the "best men" were those with the most education and money). However, they could not get the required unanimous vote in Congress, so they and other like-minded American leaders arranged for the Constitutional Convention, which would convene for the purpose of amending the Articles of Confederation. Congress cautiously decided to allow the Convention in February 1787, after declaring that any changes made would have to be approved by Congress and the states. Fifty-five delegates from twelve states (all but Rhode Island) took part in this, the most important meeting in US history.(7) The sessions were held in Philadelphia, at the Pennsylvania State House, from May to September of 1787; George Washington presided over the sessions, and the windows were kept shut, though it was a hot summer, so that nobody outside could hear the discussions. Madison arrived eleven days early, and he used the extra time to persuade other delegates that the changes needed were more than the Articles of Confederation could handle; consequently, when the Convention got underway, the first thing they did was throw out the Articles completely, and create a new government from scratch.(8)
Madison's proposal, called the "Virginia Plan" at first, had a central government that was stronger than the one created by the Articles, but still limited by a series of checks and balances, so that no individual or group would gain enough power to establish a new tyranny. Unlike the Confederation, which only had a legislative branch, there would be three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial. Each would have different powers over the others, and only the legislative branch was directly accessible to the people. The head of the executive branch, the president, would be elected by a group called the Electoral College every four years, and he would appoint most of the other members of the executive and judicial branches. By contrast, the highest body in the judicial branch, the Supreme Court, was not elected at all; once its members were appointed, they got to serve for life, because it was felt that elections interfered with the process of passing judgment on important cases.(9)
The most serious dispute among the delegates involved the organization of the legislative branch. Small states wanted to keep the "one state, one vote" formula that the Confederation used, while large states felt it would be fairer to give more votes to the states with the largest populations. In the end they went with a proposal from Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman to do both: Congress would be a bicameral legislature, with one body, the Senate, having two members from each state, while the other body, the House of Representatives, would have its members assigned according to state population. The idea at this point was to have the House represent the people, and the Senate represent the states, so House members were directly elected by the people every two years, but the Senators were elected by their state governments every six years (that lasted until the 17th Amendment called for senators to be elected by the people, too). Although Madison was disappointed by this compromise, it turned out to be what made the Convention a success, for after it was accepted the small states cooperated wholeheartedly in working out the other details of government.
Another potentially explosive issue involved slavery, and its effect on representation in Congress. Northerners with anti-slavery sentiments didn't want the southern states to gain more representatives on account of their slaves, because slaves couldn't vote and were treated as property rather than as people. However, they needed southern support for the new government to work, just as they couldn't have won the Revolution without the help of the South. Another compromise saved the day here. The slaves would be counted in each census, giving the South an advantage in the House of Representatives, but only 3/5 of their numbers would be applied when deciding how many congressmen each state could have. In addition, one of the most brutal features of American slavery, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, would be abolished, but at South Carolina's insistence, this would be delayed for twenty years.
Finally, a procedure was introduced to amend the Constitution. As with the other features of the new government, this process would move slowly, but change would not be nearly impossible, as it had been under the Articles of Confederation. This was the main contribution of Benjamin Franklin, who at the age of eighty-one, was too old to be very active in the other proceedings and debates. At the end of the Convention, Franklin, like most of the delegates, wasn't completely happy with the document they had produced, but endorsed it because he felt that they could not have written a better Constitution; the big party Philadelphia threw before they signed it put all the delegates in a good mood, too. When Franklin walked out on the last day, a woman asked him what kind of government had been created, and Franklin answered, "A republic, if you can keep it."(10)
The Federalists won that struggle because they did a brilliant job of making their case for a strong national government. Because many of them were rich, they staged huge rallies for the common people (one in Philadelphia attracted a crowd of 17,000), with cheese, biscuits, beer and cider for everybody. However, the main arena where they spoke was in the newspapers, especially those printed in New York City. Here, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay published 85 articles, known today as The Federalist Papers, which persuasively called for ratification. Against this, the opponents of the Constitution never gained the initiative; they came across as defenders of the failed Articles of Confederation; their own articles (now sometimes called The Anti-Federalist Papers) weren't as well organized, and usually written under pseudonyms, so in most cases we don't know who the real authors were. Even the name we call them by, the Anti-Federalists, was chosen by the Federalists.(12)
When the state legislatures started voting, Delaware went first, passing the Constitution unanimously on December 7, 1787. Next came Pennsylvania, but here opposition to the Constitution showed that the Federalists hadn't convinced everybody. There weren't enough Anti-Federalists to keep the Constitution from passing in a straight up-or-down vote, but by boycotting the session, they left the legislature three members short of a quorum. The Federalists solved this problem by tracking down three of the missing members, hauling them back, and forcing them to stay in their seats until they voted. The final score: 46-23 in favor of ratification. Afterwards came an ugly incident where an Anti-Federalist mob attacked James Wilson, who after Franklin was Pennsylvania's most prominent delegate at the Constitutional Convention, and almost killed him with barrel staves. Then New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut approved the Constitution in rapid succession. The sixth state to vote, Massachusetts, passed it with the closest margin yet: 187-168. A majority of the Massachusetts legislators were probably opposed at first, but they agreed to give the Constitution a chance after they were allowed to write some recommendations of changes to it; several of these "recommendations" later became part of the Bill of Rights. The spring of 1788 saw Maryland and South Carolina go next, and both ratified the Constitution easily. When the New Hampshire legislature met, most of the delegates were against ratification, so the Federalists had the convention adjourn without voting, and scheduled a second convention. Between the two gatherings, they worked to change the minds of delegates, and this worked; the second convention narrowly voted for ratification (57-46), again with suggestions for a Bill of Rights, as Massachusetts had done. New Hampshire's vote, on June 21, 1788, gave the magic number of nine states needed for the Constitution to go into effect.
The struggle, however, was not over, for two of the most important states, Virginia and New York, had not yet voted, and everyone felt that the new government could not succeed without them. As the home state of more than one prominent Anti-Federalist, Virginia promised to be tough. Madison and the Virginia governor, Edmund Randolph, managed to carry that state's legislature, but it was a close one: the vote was 89-79. In New York the vote was also close (30-27), and Alexander Hamilton's skill at making speeches and compromises probably decided the matter there. When they voted, both Virginia and New York declared that they would keep for themselves the right to withdraw from the Union, should the federal government become oppressive (later on, Rhode Island would do likewise). On September 13, 1788, the Confederation Congress passed its final resolutions, which put the new Constitution in operation, set January 7, 1789 as the date to begin choosing electors for the first presidential election, picked March 4, 1789 for the date of the first meeting of the new Congress taking its place, and moved the nation's capital to New York City (it went back to Philadelphia in 1790, where it stayed until 1800).
That left two states that hadn't voted--North Carolina and Rhode Island. North Carolina's legislators refused to ratify the Constitution until it contained a declaration of what rights the people had, prompting General Washington to write them a letter saying this was a wonderful idea. Madison was already working on a draft for a Bill of Rights, combining suggestions from hundreds of sources; he had opposed a Bill of Rights initially, feeling it wasn't necessary as long as the government's power was limited, but the closeness of the vote in Virginia convinced him that something had to be done to placate the Anti-Federalists.(13) His draft contained twelve proposals, ten of which became the official Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The eleventh proposal, fixing how often congressmen could vote on their salaries, was ratified much later, as the 27th Amendment (in 1992, after a university student found it!); one more proposal, regulating the size of the House of Representatives, was never approved by enough states to become an amendment. Now that North Carolina's grievance had been addressed, it too voted for ratification, on November 21, 1789.
Unlike most of the states, Rhode Island had prospered under the Confederation. Also, it had a reputation for being a rather lawless place (the Puritans had nicknamed it "Rogue's Island" when their own malcontents moved there in the seventeenth century), whose citizens resented being told what to do. Consequently they had little interest in the Constitutional Convention, and when ratification came up, the people were asked if a legislative session should be called to address the issue, and they voted no. However, pressure was put on Rhode Island after the new US Congress convened; the Senate declared that if Rhode Island did not ratify the Constitution, it would be treated as a separate nation, with all its exports subject to taxes. That brought Rhode Island around, and it finally voted for ratification (34-32) on May 29, 1790.
Everybody's favorite choice for president at this stage was George Washington, so each delegate cast one of his votes for the general, meaning that Washington was elected unanimously. 34 of the other 69 votes went to John Adams, so he became the first vice president.(14) Governor George Clinton of New York, an Anti-Federalist who wanted to make major changes to the Constitution, came in third place; Washington was relieved that he didn't win, and called Adams a "safe man."
However, there was at least one person who didn't think Washington should be president, and that was Washington himself. Worn out from years of service, he felt he had done enough, and when the Constitutional Convention was over, he hurried back to Mt. Vernon immediately. He could not retire yet, though, for the best argument in favor of the Constitution was that Washington had signed it, so he did quite a bit of traveling during the campaign to ratify it, especially in Virginia. Then when he traveled from Mt. Vernon to New York City, to assume the job of president, he did so with great reluctance: "My movements to the chair of government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of execution . . . I am sensible that I am embarking the voice of the people and a good name of my own on this voyage; but what returns will be made for them, Heaven alone can foretell." He also found it embarrassing that he had to borrow $600 from a neighbor to pay his debts and relocation expenses. After taking the oath of office, on April 30, 1789, Washington still hoped for a chance to resign before the four-year term was up, but until someone appeared who could take his place, he felt duty-bound to stay.
As president, Washington was careful to do everything in a dignified manner, knowing that future presidents would look to him for examples on how to act. His biggest fear was that the new government might fail at some point, and civil war and economic chaos would follow; therefore he felt that if the government could last for twenty years, it would set enough precedents to make the nation safe. He also had to decide when to use the powers expected of a chief executive, and when not to use them; using them too often ran the risk of turning the president into a dictator, but not using them at all would render him a figurehead, leading to anarchy. To help in all these things, Washington chose a balance of opinions among the men he would work with. No one was better at handling money than Hamilton, so he became Secretary of the Treasury, and since Washington's old friend Henry Knox (see Chapter 2, footnote #41) had been Secretary of War for the Confederation, it made sense to keep him in that job. Another friend, Edmund Randolph, was picked for Attorney General. John Jay's excellent diplomatic skills made him a natural choice for Secretary of State, but he also favored the rich to the point that he once said, "Those who own the country ought to govern it." Washington needed a liberal to offset the mostly conservative group he had already, so he put Thomas Jefferson in the State position, and made Jay the first chief justice of the Supreme Court instead.
Washington thought political parties were a bad idea, and advised against them. Despite this, the Cabinet split into two factions, led by Jefferson and Hamilton. They had dramatically different visions of the course the country should take. Jefferson saw the United States as a latter-day Roman Republic, where the citizens were mostly farmers; like Cincinnatus, they would serve as soldiers or politicians when duty called, and then go back to their farms as soon as they were no longer needed. Hamilton, on the other hand, envisioned a capitalist, largely urban society, that got most of its income from trade and manufacturing; his role model was England, which was now in the first stages of the Industrial Revolution. Over the course of 1790 and 1791, Hamilton submitted five reports to Congress on how he wanted to change the economy: an increase in public credit, the laying of duties on imports, the creation of a National Bank, the establishment of a Mint, and actions to stimulate more manufacturing.
Of these, the first proposal was the most controversial. Basically, it called for creating a national debt, by transferring the debts of the state governments to the national government; the national government would borrow money, usually by selling bonds, to pay off the IOUs written by the states during the financially lean 1770s and 1780s.(15) Hamilton felt that in the long run, a national debt would be good for the country; it would encourage those who had lent money to be loyal (if they wanted to get their money back), and if the debt was handled well, it would give the United States a good credit rating. Jefferson and Madison sharply criticized this proposal, because they saw that a government acting this way would favor the rich folks who lent it money, and use taxes from the poor to make payments on the debt.
Eventually Hamilton and Jefferson made a deal: in return for letting Hamilton have his way with the economy, Hamilton would support one of Jefferson's projects, to build a permanent national capital south of the Mason & Dixon Line (see footnote #6). The site picked was a county-sized patch of swamp along the Potomac River; Maryland and Virginia ceded it to the national government and it was declared the District of Columbia, no longer part of any state (the part west of the river, modern Arlington County, was returned to Virginia in 1846). It was a place where everyone was equally miserable--too hot for Northerners in the summer, too cold for Southerners in the winter, and prone to disease until the swamps were drained--so it turned out to be a perfect location. A French architect, Pierre L'Enfant, was hired to design a city that resembled the capital cities of Europe. Still, construction on the future Washington, D.C. went slowly, because the building program was never adequately funded. In 1800 the government started moving in, ten years after construction had begun, but key buildings like the Capitol were still decades away from being finished.
Overseas, the main event during Washington's presidency was the French Revolution. Because revolution had worked out so well for the Americans, the French decided to try it in 1789. At first, it looked like the French would establish an American-style republic, but toward the end of Washington's first term the most radical faction among the revolutionaries, the Jacobins, took over, and soon they were cutting off much more than the king's authority--they were guillotining first real, and then imagined enemies, in a reign of terror.(16) Washington's old friend Lafayette thanked him for being a great teacher by sending him the keys to the Bastille as a present, but Washington and the Federalists weren't about to support a government that executed anyone at the drop of a hat. He probably had France's violent social experiment in mind when wrote in his farewell address that future governments should steer clear of foreign entanglements. Anti-Federalists like Samuel Adams, on the other hand, declared they were on the side of the Revolution; so did Jefferson, who liked to think that his writings helped cause it.
Of all the Cabinet members, Hamilton was the most powerful, earning the nickname "The Prime Minister." He usually got his way because whenever he presented a problem, he already had a solution to offer at the same time. But it was Jefferson who understood the people best, and in the spring of 1791 he began using this to his advantage. One day he and Madison rode north from Philadelphia on what they called a "botanizing excursion." In the letters they wrote home, they talked about strawberries in bloom, catching speckled trout, and getting arrested in Vermont for riding in a carriage on Sunday (that broke one of the local blue laws). But the real purpose of the trip was to organize America's second political party, an opposition party to the Federalists; they did not say a word about that. In Albany they met Governor George Clinton, because former Anti-Federalists were the most likely folks to join them, and in New York City they met Aaron Burr, an ambitious lawyer who led the Tammany Society, an Anti-Federalist club that had been founded in 1789. This union of southern planters and Tammany attracted radicals, discontented farmers, western frontiersmen, and any opponents of the Constitution who hadn't given up the fight. Soon they were calling themselves the Democratic-Republican Party.
In 1792 Madison made this speech to argue that under the Federalists, the national government was growing too quickly:
"If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every state, county and parish, and pay them out of the public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision for the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, everything, from the highest object of state legislature down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress." (Sound like today's bureaucracy?)
When it came time for the 1792 presidential election, Washington still wanted to step down, but nobody had come along in the first term who was better qualified than he was, so he reluctantly allowed the electors to unanimously vote for him again. The second term, however, proved stormier than the first. By this time, Jefferson realized that Hamilton had gotten the better part of their deal, and he saw the country (the part east of the Appalachians, anyway) moving away from the agrarian utopia he wanted; at the end of 1793 he resigned from his Cabinet position. After that Washington and his administration frequently came under verbal attack from those who disagreed with its policies. Not used to mudslinging, Washington felt his opponents were acting like they had seen a rabid dog, and remarked that their accusations were "such exaggerated terms as could scarcely be applied to a Nero, a notorious defaulter, or even to a common pickpocket."
Many of those charges came about because it was time for the national government to enforce its authority. Hamilton had asked for taxes on coffee, tea, wine and spirits, so the government could make payments on the debt he had just persuaded it to accept. The tax that caused the most protests was the one on spirits; western settlers had been converting grain crops into whiskey, because the lack of good roads and nearby markets kept them from selling their crops before they spoiled. The settlers also found whiskey useful as a substitute for money, when they were short on cash. From the start they protested the tax as an unfair attack on their way of life, and resisted it with increasing strength; by 1794 it was a full-scale rebellion in the western counties of several states. Washington had to show that the time to revolt against taxation was over, and when the governor of Pennsylvania reported that he did not have enough troops in his militia to suppress the "Whiskey Rebellion" within the state's borders, Washington raised an army of 13,000 men from New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia. To show he meant business, Washington led the troops himself, becoming the only acting president to personally lead soldiers into battle. Against this overwhelming show of force, the rebels gave up immediately, so the rebellion ended bloodlessly. In the long run the hated whiskey tax was still unenforceable in many areas, and often uncollected even in pacified western Pennsylvania, so the tax was canceled in 1803, but Washington proved his point: a representative government could not survive if anyone was allowed to trample on its laws, so a line had to be drawn somewhere. It also showed that the leaders of the first American Revolution would use force, if necessary, to keep anyone from starting another.(17)
If there was any place that gave Americans hope that their nation would be successful, it was on the frontier. Three territories became states while Washington was president, bringing the total number of states to sixteen: Vermont in 1791, Kentucky in 1792, and Tennessee in 1796. Also important, the dispute over British and Spanish forts on US soil was resolved. There was a war scare in 1794, because Britain was seizing neutral ships that tried to land in the French West Indies, and giving aid to the Indians fighting American soldiers and settlers in Ohio. The army managed to get the upper hand against the Indians, when General "Mad" Anthony Wayne defeated a coalition of tribes at the battle of Fallen Timbers (August 20, 1794, near Toledo, OH). As for the British, Washington sent John Jay to London to negotiate a resolution to the differences between the two countries. Jay brought back a treaty ("Jay's Treaty") that increased trade with Britain, in return for British promises to compensate the owners of the ships they had taken, and to evacuate the forts on the Great Lakes by June 1796. Though all of these promises were kept, the treaty also meant that 90 percent of American foreign trade would be with Britain, so Jay felt most Americans would find it unacceptable. Sure enough, Jefferson and Madison denounced the treaty, arguing that America's 1778 alliance with France should take precedence.(18) Others were upset that Great Britain had done little besides agree to the same things she had promised in 1783; in Tennessee, a young lawyer named Andrew Jackson said that Washington should be impeached for signing such a cowardly treaty. Meanwhile in the territory south of the Ohio River, Spain was finally persuaded that it wouldn't be able to defend its three forts in Alabama and Mississippi, in the event of a future war with the United States. Through another treaty, the Treaty of San Lorenzo (October 1795), the Spaniards announced they would get out of the forts, but did not leave until 1798.
Washington retired to Mt. Vernon again. In 1798 President Adams appointed him commanding general over the US Army, to make France think twice about picking a fight with the United States (see below). On December 14, 1799, Washington died of complications involving a bout with pneumonia and the attempts by doctors to cure it by bleeding him (bleeding was an accepted medical practice in those days, that's why doctors were sometimes called "leeches"). All America mourned; one of his generals, Henry "Light Horse" Lee, provided the best eulogy by calling Washington "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." The Federalists had a special reason to miss him, because he was their greatest man. As long as Washington was alive, the Federalists always won; after his death, they never elected another president.
Because Washington had played such a larger-than-life role, Adams found that he was not quite up to filling Washington's shoes. Still, he managed to avoid a war with France, no small achievement considering that Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in 1799, so the French were in the most belligerent phase of their history. The war scare happened because the French no longer trusted the United States, seeing the recently signed Jay's Treaty as evidence of an Anglo-American alliance. Over the course of 1797, the French seized 300 ships belonging to the officially neutral Americans, and sent home America's ambassador, something that nations in those days usually did when they were about to issue a declaration of war. Federalists like Hamilton called for war, while Democratic-Republicans wanted to mend relations with the French; Adams wanted neither, believing that the best course was a peaceful resolution without picking sides. Along that line, he sent three diplomats (Charles Pinckney, John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry) to France, but instead of speaking to that country's rulers, they met with three officials who demanded a bribe of $250,000 for the French foreign minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, and a $12 million loan to the French government, before any other meetings could take place. The Americans rejected these demands, crying out, "No; no; not a sixpence!" and promptly broke off negotiations. The newspapers rewrote that to read "Millions for defense, but not a cent for tribute!" Adams released a report of this incident to Congress in early 1798, but instead of mentioning the names of the French officials (the names were revealed later), they were merely called "X," "Y," and "Z," so this incident is now known as the XYZ Affair.
By this time, American and French naval vessels and privateers were fighting an undeclared war in the Caribbean. Congress authorized the building of more warships, both sides scored victories, and President Adams was hard pressed to keep the "Quasi-War" from turning into an official war. Fortunately tempers eventually cooled; the Americans and the French lost interest in fighting after 1798, and a treaty signed in late 1800 finally ended the conflict.
Despite the success of Adams' foreign policy, one thing that the Federalists did to achieve it was what ultimately brought them down--the passage of the Alien & Sedition Acts in 1798. These four laws called for the deportation of foreigners considered dangerous, outlawed the publishing of "false, scandalous and malicious writing" against the government, increased the waiting time for immigrants to become citizens from five years to fourteen, and authorized the president to arrest and deport aliens from countries the United States was at war with. This alarmed many; they had watched the national government grow rapidly over the past decade, and now it looked like it was illegal to criticize President Adams and his administration. Were the Federalists about to launch their own reign of terror?(19) Virginia and Kentucky passed resolutions declaring that they viewed the Alien & Sedition Acts as unconstitutional, and had no intention of enforcing them. This was the first time state governments talked about nullification, a term we'll be hearing later on, when the South tried to void unpopular tarriffs and the North tried to ignore laws enforcing slavery. There was also another tax rebellion in the same state where the Whiskey Rebellion took place--Pennsylvania, in March 1799. This one, known as Fries' Rebellion, was against property taxes, and the governor managed to stop it by calling forth the militia, after the rebel force had grown to 400 men. The rebel leader, John Fries, and two others, were convicted of treason and sentenced to death, but Adams pardoned them, following Washington's example from the Whiskey Rebellion. Fortunately, the first two laws of the Alien & Sedition Acts were only temporary, and expired two years later; the third was repealed in 1802, leaving only the "Alien Enemies" act on the law books today. Still, all this convinced a majority of Americans that it was time for the Federalists to step down. The Federalists themselves made sure that Adams would not be reelected by splitting in 1800; Hamilton campaigned for Charles Pinckney, Adams' choice for the next vice president, instead of for Adams.
Right after the election, the government moved to Washington, D. C., but the unfinished White House gave little joy to the outgoing president (Abigail Adams hung laundry to dry in the East Room, where later presidents usually held lavish parties!).(20) Feeling rejected by the country, Adams left the White House quietly when his term ended on March 4, 1801, choosing not to attend the inauguration of his successor. His last days in office were spent appointing Federalist judges to every court with a vacancy. Those judges can be called the "Federalists' Revenge," because they were active for years after both Adams and the Federalist Party disappeared from the scene; one of those appointments was John Marshall, the longest-serving chief justice the Supreme Court ever had (1801-35). Starting with the Marbury vs. Madison case, (1803), the Supreme Court made full use of the process of judicial review, and by doing that, Marshall transformed the court from being merely the final reviewer of court cases to the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution. One could argue that since Marshall got hold of the court, the judicial branch has really been the government's most powerful body, because it operates with fewer limitations than either the executive or legislative branches.
The 1800 election showed that a peaceful transfer of power, from one political party to another, was possible. In that election, the Federalists not only lost control of the presidency, but also both houses of Congress; the Democratic-Republicans were so firmly entrenched that they ran the country, in form or another, for the next forty years. However, the presidential race of 1800 was also the closest in US history, ending in a dead tie. This happened because of the previously mentioned rule that had each elector vote twice, with the top runner-up becoming vice president. The rule had already made Jefferson vice president under Adams, though they were political opponents. The Founding Fathers had not expected the development of a two-party system, when they wrote that rule. In 1800 it led to what author Edward J. Larson called "a magnificent catastrophe," because everyone favoring the Democratic-Republicans cast his ballots for the same two candidates, Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican party boss of New York, Aaron Burr.(21) There had been a plan among them to have a few electors vote for someone besides Burr, to give Jefferson a slight margin of victory and make him president, leaving the vice presidential spot for Burr. The Virginia electors thought the New York electors would change their votes, while the New York electors expected Virginia to switch, so nobody did it. The results were as follows:
Thomas Jefferson: 73
The tie between Jefferson and Burr threw the election into the House of Representatives. There a group of Federalists, figuring that Adams couldn't win, decided to vote for Burr. However, Alexander Hamilton disagreed. Hamilton and Burr had been enemies since 1791, when Burr was elected senator of New York, and Hamilton tried to keep him from getting the job. This time Hamilton wrote an impassioned protest. In a remarkable show of unselfishness, he told them that the only candidate who deserved to win was his other enemy, Jefferson: "If there be a man in this world I ought to hate, it is Jefferson, but the public good must be paramount to every private consideration." He still thought Jefferson was an anarchist and a hypocrite, but Burr was worse: "A cold-blooded Catiline . . . a profligate; a voluptuary . . . without doubt insolvent." Burr was the sort of scoundrel who could betray his country or start a war, just for personal gain. Hamilton finished with this plea: "For heaven's sake, let not the federal party be responsible for the elevation of this man!" For six days the House was deadlocked, holding 35 ballots without any candidate securing a majority. Finally on the seventh day a pro-Burr Federalist, James Bayard of Delaware, abstained from voting, allowing Jefferson to win by a one-vote lead.
Two long-term effects of the 1800 election are worth remembering. First, it caused the passage of the Twelfth Amendment in 1802, which kept such a deadlock from happening again by forcing the presidential and vice presidential candidates to run in separate races.(22) Second, Burr replaced Jefferson as Hamilton's main enemy, leading to fateful results, as we shall see shortly.
Besides having a lot to live up to, Jefferson had much to live down. During the bitterly contested 1800 election, the Federalists were positively terrified of what would happen if Jefferson got elected. They called him every dirty name they could think of: a libertine, a drunkard, a radical, an impractical dreamer, an atheist with plans to rewrite the Bible if he got the chance, and even a "fire-breathing salamander." Because Jefferson had once served as the ambassador to France, his enemies thought he had helped topple the monarchy of Louis XVI in the French Revolution, and thus expected he would bring down the American republic, too. So if you are promoting conspiracy theories in the United States today, you're continuing a tradition that the Federalists started more than two hundred years ago, and you're a beginner compared with them.
Besides proving he was none of the things in the previous paragraph, Jefferson cut both taxes and the budget, paid off a third of the national debt, successfully fought the Barbary Pirates, and peacefully doubled the size of the nation. Is there any question why modern-day Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians all claim Jefferson as one of their own, and that he has a place on Mt. Rushmore, as one of the four greatest US presidents?
Cutting taxes and spending was probably a more popular move back then than it would be now. Unlike most of today's politicians, Jefferson did not believe it was right to take money from the people to pay for things the government and the public did not need, even if those services might be considered beneficial, and both he and his treasury secretary, the Swiss-born Albert Gallatin, made paying down the national debt a priority. To do this and reduce spending, they cut a number of appropriations out of the budget, especially for the army and navy. Also, to keep a campaign promise, Jefferson had all of the direct federal taxes passed by the Federalists repealed, including the hated whiskey tax, and boasted that with this kind of government, ordinary Americans will never see a federal tax collector in their whole lives.
Despite the budget cuts to the armed forces, Jefferson was still able to deal with the Barbary pirates, who had been a serious danger to American shipping for nearly twenty years. While US diplomats were rejecting French demands for money, the US government had been paying tribute to the North African states where the pirates were based. This dismal record included a "gift" of $10,000 to Morocco in 1786, and $21,600 a year to Algiers from 1795 onward. In addition, the government ransomed captured hostages ($60,000 was paid to Tripoli for this purpose in 1805); all these payments were a significant drain on the nation's small treasury. Finally, the rulers of those states could put the president in a sticky situation by offering presents; the Constitution did not allow the president to accept gifts from foreigners without the permission of Congress, but if he refused them, he would insult the givers. One such case happened to Jefferson in 1806, when the bey of Tunis offered him four Arabian horses. After much thought, Jefferson decided to accept, figuring he could sell them later to pay the bills racked up by the Tunisian minister while he stayed in Washington. Unfortunately, the horses turned out to be nearly worthless; the minister's visit ended up costing $15,000, but the horses could only be sold for fifty dollars each!
Anyway, it wasn't until the first year of Jefferson's presidency that the United States had enough naval vessels to go on the offensive against the pirates. It took two wars (1801-05 and again in 1815), but the American ships and marines that went "to the shores of Tripoli" succeeded in teaching the Barbary states a lesson. In fact, no Moslem nation gave the United States much trouble after that until the late twentieth century, when Ayatollah Khomeini took control of Iran. Because the battles in these conflicts were fought on or near the coast of North Africa, they are covered in Chapter 7 of my African history.
In 1800 Napoleon Bonaparte bullied Spain into giving back the territory between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mts., the western half of the former (pre-1763) French colony of "Louisiana." This transfer alarmed the Americans, because the Mississippi had become vital to commerce in the west. If Spain, a country centuries past its prime, could block access to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, what kind of mischief could a modern power like France cause?
As it turned out, fears of Napoleonic-style military adventures in the Americas were exaggerated. First of all, Napoleon didn't really have much interest in anything beyond Europe; the only campaign he led overseas was the one to Egypt in 1798. Second, he was confined to continental Europe as long as the British navy ruled the waves. Finally, if he was going to have any sort of empire on the North American mainland, with seaports on the Gulf of Mexico, he would need bases in the Caribbean to defend it. The best island for such a base was Hispaniola, or as the French called it, St. Domingue (modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic). The French managed to stop British and Spanish invasions of St. Domingue during the 1790s by doing away with slavery, thereby making sure that the local black population would stay on their side. A former slave, François Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture, rose to the rank of general during that conflict, and became governor of the island after the invaders were thrown out. Napoleon, however, didn't trust him, and sent an army of 20,000 to replace Toussaint with a white general. They quickly took over the island in 1802, and arrested and sent Toussaint to France, where he later died in prison.
Americans did not mind Napoleon restoring his authority in the Caribbean, but that was as close as they wanted him to come. Many thought the French would head for Louisiana next, with war as the likely result when French and US troops met on the banks of the Mississippi. So did the British, who let the Americans know they would be happy to arrange an alliance, should it come to that. President Jefferson did keep communications open with London, but hoped that negotiations with the French would be more successful. First he sent Robert Livingston, his old partner from the days when they both worked on the Declaration of Independence, to Paris in 1801; then to back him up, he sent James Monroe in 1803, with an offer to buy New Orleans for $7,500,000.
Napoleon wouldn't consider such a proposal, until he got some bad news from the Caribbean. The soldiers on St. Domingue had a new enemy that their guns could not defeat--yellow fever. Within a year of the expedition, two thirds of the troops, including the commanding general, succumbed to the disease. What's more, Napoleon couldn't send reinforcements. He managed to launch the first expedition only because the British had allowed it, due to a cease-fire that interrupted the European war in 1801. In the case of Louisiana, transportation was so bad that he had to leave Spanish officials in charge for most of the time he had the colony (a French governor and garrison finally arrived in New Orleans late in 1803, just three weeks before the territory was handed over to the United States). Now France and Britain were fighting again, so the British blockade was back up, and Napoleon would probably lose both Louisiana and St. Domingue in the near future. Under the circumstances, it made sense to get some money from those places while he could.
Once Napoleon had his mind made up, he wasn't the type to wait around. He instructed Foreign Minister Talleyrand to tell the American envoys he wouldn't sell New Orleans by itself, but he would sell the whole of Louisiana. Then they agreed on a price for the sale, which worked out to $15 million, twice the amount the Americans had been expecting to pay for New Orleans. Jefferson had some misgivings at first, and searched the Constitution to see what it said about buying land from other countries. Finding nothing, he had the "Louisiana Purchase" written in the form of a treaty, and submitted it to Congress for approval, because presidents were at least allowed to do that. For only four cents an acre, the United States got the greatest real estate deal of all time.
The Louisiana territory, and the expeditions to explore it (see the next section).
Louisiana was defined at that time as all the land west of the Mississippi, which was drained by that river. However, most of the territory had only been seen by Indians, so the citizens of the United States didn't know what was in it. Because the borders were so vague, for example, nobody knew for sure who owned Texas; when Alexander von Humboldt came to Washington (see footnote #24), Jefferson asked him if he had seen anything in Mexico that would give the United States a claim to all land on this side of the Rio Grande. The situation was equally fuzzy with West Florida, because the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Pensacola had belonged to France before 1763, but Spain had it now, so it was not part of the Louisiana Purchase. Individual pioneers and their families began migrating westward, and if they happened to stray into Texas or West Florida, they simply kept going until they found a good spot to set up a homestead. In the northwest, enough pioneers settled in Ohio for that territory to become a state in 1803.
Those fuzzy borders, the presence of Spain, and the uncertain loyalty of the people of New Orleans, meant that from the start, troops would be needed to garrison the lower Mississippi valley. Because of this, Jefferson appointed the highest ranking general in the army, James Wilkinson, to be the first American governor of the Louisiana Territory. Alas, Wilkinson's rank did not mean he was competent. The only positive quality Wilkinson had was a charming personality; indeed, that was how he got to be a general in the first place (see Chapter 2). It also meant that while Congress and four presidents, from Washington to Madison, didn't trust Wilkinson, they always kept giving him another chance. As historian Robert Leckie put it, Wilkinson was "a general who never won a battle or lost a court-martial."
There was good reason to distrust Wilkinson, for he was also a Spanish spy. In the 1780s he had moved to Kentucky, gone deep into debt, and hit upon the same solution Benedict Arnold had--he got the money he needed from a foreign power. This time the foreign power was Spain, and Wilkinson agreed to provide Spain with information and influence, in return for $2,000 in silver dollars each year (the amount was later increased to $4,000). He worked as a spy for at least twenty years after that, though Spain had trouble getting the money to him, he had trouble spending it without attracting attention, and he had to defend himself more than once at boards of inquiry and court-martials. Nevertheless, he avoided blowing his cover, and because he sent his messages to the Spanish government in code, the truth about his dealings wasn't discovered until a hundred years after his death (it took that long to break the code).
Consider the consequences of one decision Wilkinson made. In 1809 the federal government recruited 2,000 soldiers to defend New Orleans, but it soon became apparent that the Crescent City was not a healthy place for them; the local diseases, liquor and prostitutes quickly put a third of the men out of action. The Secretary of War ordered Wilkinson to lead the soldiers upstream to Natchez, MS, but Wilkinson enjoyed New Orleans so much that he didn't want to leave the neighborhood, so instead he had the troops set up camp at Terre-aux-Boeufs, a swamp twelve miles south of the city. Of course conditions were even worse here, and the food was terrible to boot. Only somebody who enjoys hunting and fishing in swamps, like the cast of "Duck Dynasty," would think that moving into a swamp is an improvement. Wilkinson lost a thousand men--half his force--to disease and desertions; it was the worst peacetime military disaster in early American history. No wonder some folks suspected that Wilkinson's decision was motivated by treachery, not just stupidity.
The expedition set out from St. Louis in May 1804, and followed the Missouri River upstream. This was the easiest part of the journey, because fur traders had been in that region before. However, this was where they suffered their only casualty; near present-day Sioux City, IA, Sergeant Charles Floyd died of a ruptured appendix (compare this with the losses suffered by the Spanish and French explorers in Chapter 1!).
After buying their passage through Sioux country with some gifts to the Sioux, the explorers stopped for the winter in North Dakota, building Fort Mandan among the tribe by the same name. Here they gained a few more members to the expedition, the most important being an Indian woman named Sacagawea, and her French Canadian husband, Toussaint Charbonneau. Originally a member of the Shoshone tribe in Idaho, Sacagawea had been captured at the age of 13 by the Hidatsa tribe, traded to the Mandan, and finally sold to Carbonneau. Now she wanted to go back to her people, so Sacagawea offered to act as a guide. In practice, though, they traveled through areas that were new to her, so Sacagawea was mainly useful as an interpreter, and as a reassurance to the Indians they met on the way; she had a baby, Jean Baptiste, during the winter at Fort Mandan, so the tribes in the West reasoned that a group of white men who traveled with an Indian woman and a baby couldn't be a war party.
Once the expedition got moving again, they followed the Missouri River to its source, hiked over the Continental Divide, and found no river on the other side of the Rockies. This meant there wasn't even a portage between eastward and westward-flowing streams, that could be used as a "Northwest Passage." The expedition had failed to achieve its main goal, but Lewis and Clark still wanted to see how far it was from the Rockies to the Pacific, so they kept going until they encountered first the Nez Perce tribe, and then the Shoshone, whereupon Sacagawea recognized her brother. Now they found rivers going in the direction they wanted, so from here they simply went down the Clearwater, Snake, and finally the Columbia Rivers. At the mouth of the Columbia they reached the Pacific, and here in December 1805 they built Fort Clatsop for their second winter.
On the return trip, the party split in two when they got east of the Continental Divide, with Lewis taking one group and Clark the other, so that Lewis could explore (and possibly claim for the United States) a part of Alberta that was rich with furs. They reunited near the junction of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers in August 1806, headed down the Missouri, and returned to St. Louis in September.(25)
Spanish authorities in Mexico were alarmed at Lewis and Clark, thinking they would pass too close by their colony at Santa Fe. Acting on a tip from General Wilkinson, they tried to intercept the expedition, but never found it in that vast wilderness. Another explorer, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, however, was not so lucky. His first expedition, in 1805-06, went north to find once and for all where the source of the Mississippi was, and he concluded that the great river began in two Minnesota lakes, Cass Lake and Leech Lake. The truth is that the real source is Lake Itasca, but nobody discovered this until 1832. He also bought a piece of land from the Sioux, which became the site for Fort Snelling, modern Minneapolis. For his second expedition, in 1806, Pike followed the Arkansas River to its source in Colorado, and tried to climb the famous mountain he discovered, Pike's Peak. Then he went to the headwaters of the Rio Grande, but now he was definitely trespassing on Spanish territory; the Spaniards arrested and held him, first at Santa Fe, and then at Chihuahua, Mexico, before releasing him a year later so he could return by way of Texas.
However, from a political/historical standpoint, the duel had the opposite effect, as if the fatal bullet had bounced off Hamilton and hit Burr between the eyes. Hamilton was past his peak in the first years of the nineteenth century, no longer liked much except by the more conservative wing of the Federalist Party, but his unexpected death caused everyone to remember his legacy, how he had singlehandedly made a new nation financially solvent; his picture is now on the ten-dollar bill to commemorate that achievement.
Burr's political career, on the other hand, ended with that duel. Because the state of New York charged Burr with murder, he fled immediately to Philadelphia. Then the killing of Hamilton became the second worst thing that Burr ever did; now he resorted to treason, by trying to break off the western territories and make them his own country. First he contacted the British minister stationed in Philadelphia, Anthony Merry, and offered to help Britain take over the Ohio and Mississippi valleys; presumably Burr would be rewarded by becoming governor or president of the new colony. What's more, Spain still claimed part of the lower Mississippi, so with a bit of luck, Britain could grab some Spanish territory as well, like Texas or even Mexico. Merry wanted to go ahead with this scheme, but at that point, Britain got a new prime minister, Charles James Fox. Fox was friendly to the United States, and he showed he wanted nothing to do with Burr's ideas by recalling Merry.
With his British support gone, Burr launched "Plan B" in 1806. Realizing he was going to need an army to defend any land he claimed, he traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in a small fleet of flatboats, recruiting frontiersmen and other adventurers who might join him. Burr said he was going to Spanish-ruled Texas, and the recruits were armed farmers who would work on 40,000 acres he had just leased there. Details of what he was really up to are not clear. Some believe he was going to make the southwest corner of the United States secede; others think he wanted to do the same thing with Texas or Florida; still others suspect he was trying to start a war between Spain and the United States, with himself picking up the pieces. Whatever the goal of the "Burr conspiracy" was, President Jefferson recognized it as treason, and had Burr arrested and brought back before he could carry it out. The trial that followed was presided over by Chief Justice John Marshall (two hundred years ago, Supreme Court justices had more free time on their hands than they do today), and the prosecution did such a bad job of gathering evidence for the case, that Burr was acquitted.
Now Burr fled to Europe to escape the federal government and his creditors, trying unsuccessfully to get various Europeans to help him in new schemes. After spending what money he had, Burr returned to New York in 1812, where he lived out his remaining years in obscurity, as a moderately successful lawyer. He married a wealthy widow, Eliza Bowen Junel, as his second wife in 1833, when he was 77, but four months later, she caught her husband using her fortune for land speculation, and filed for divorce. The divorce wasn't granted until the day Burr died in 1836; ironically, the divorce papers were delivered to Burr's deathbed by Alexander Hamilton's son.(26)
If there was one thing Jefferson badly misjudged, it was US influence on Europe. The Napoleonic Wars were in full swing during his second term, and this time the fighting wouldn't stop until Napoleon went into exile in 1814. Like his predecessors, Jefferson did not want to get involved in a strictly European conflict, but American ships were now at risk whenever they crossed the Atlantic. The British navy was the worst offender, because they were losing more sailors to desertion than they were from battles with the enemy. Over the course of a decade, 42,000 sailors deserted to escape rotten food and galley-slave-like conditions on British ships. Many of them came to the United States, and if they went out to sea again, they would carry papers identifying them as US citizens. In response, British ships began intercepting American ships and arresting their crews, whether they had any deserters or not, in a process simply called impressment. By the time the War of 1812 started, they had chained or tied up 10,000 Americans, thrown them into filthy bunks, and turned them into cannon fodder. Between the British and the French, 1,475 American ships and their trade goods were confiscated as well.
When a British frigate fired on the USS Chesapeake in December 1807, just outside American territorial waters, most Americans were angry enough to start a war. Instead, Jefferson tried a nonviolent approach; he introduced the Embargo Act, a law which canceled trade with all countries at war. Jefferson thought this would stop the Napoleonic Wars, because the United States had some trade goods that Europeans couldn't get at home, like tobacco, cotton, and tree trunks tall enough to use as masts for ships (the largest trees in Europe had been cut down by this time). Unfortunately, in the early nineteenth century Americans needed European trade goods more than the other way around, so the main result of the embargo was widespread unemployment in US ports. Ships rotted at wharfs, warehouses and shipyards were deserted, and four-fifths of the nation's income from exports simply disappeared. Even Vermont, a state with no seaports, was affected, because trade with British-run Canada was outlawed. France and England simply laughed at this, because they found smugglers willing to bring them what they needed (usually by going through Florida, or in and out of Canada via Lake Champlain). Meanwhile in Europe, the armies of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington continued to duke it out. Because it had done nothing but eliminate jobs, the extremely unpopular Embargo Act was repealed in 1809, just before Jefferson left office.
1. Cape Breton Island was not a successful province on its own (for one thing, it did not have an elected legislature), and in 1820 it was merged back with Nova Scotia.
2. At first the North West Company's fur traders brought their furs to Grand Portage, on the western shore of Lake Superior, where canoes transported them to Montreal, and brought back supplies on the return trip. They moved to Fort William, on the northern shore of Lake Superior, in 1803, because they discovered that Grand Portage was within the boundaries of the United States (in modern-day Minnesota). In 1795 another fur trader, Jacques Vieau, opened up business with the United States by establishing trading posts in Wisconsin, at Milwaukee, Kewaunee, Manitowoc and Sheboygan; the North West Company also briefly had an office in New York City.
3. The Founding Fathers had an ongoing argument over whether the army should be composed of professional soldiers or militiamen. Having more discipline and training, a standing army of professional soldiers fights better (that's why the British usually won in one-on-one battles during the Revolution), but since militiamen were part-time warriors, who were only called when needed, many Patriots felt safer with them around; militias weren't likely to obey an order to invade another territory or oppress the civilian population. In one of the more absurd examples of this argument, a delegate at the Constitutional Convention moved that the standing army be restricted to a maximum of five thousand troops. When Washington heard this, he turned to a friend and remarked that such a law would be fine with him, if the Constitution also declared it illegal for any army invading the United States to have more than three thousand troops!
4. There were ten presidents during the existence of the Articles of Confederation, and those with an interest in trivia will tell you that one of them was the first president of the United States, not Washington. However, they disagree on who it was, and the truth is rather complicated to explain. The first Confederation president, Samuel Huntington, was also the last president of the Continental Congress, and he stepped down after only four months, citing work-related fatigue. He was succeeded by Thomas McKean, who also served for four months, until an election could be held. The winner of the election was a Maryland congressman, John Hanson, and he was the first to serve a complete term, so he is the one who usually gets called the first real president of the United States. Among the presidents who came after Hanson, two were individuals mentioned in the last chapter: John Hancock and Richard Henry Lee. Hancock thought the office was so worthless that he never bothered to go to Philadelphia to accept it. Meanwhile, Washington remained the most powerful man in the United States, because he still commanded the army, making him the only person to have control over citizens in all thirteen states.
5. In practice, however, it turned out to be five and a half states: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the eastern part of Minnesota.
6. In the 1760s, two English surveyors, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, measured and marked the exact location of Maryland's northern border, to resolve land disputes between Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware. This line of demarcation, henceforth called the Mason & Dixon Line, came to be seen as the official boundary between the North and the South. After the banning of slavery in the Northwest Territory, the Ohio River served the same purpose west of the Appalachians.
Today a sign like this stands on each road crossing the Mason & Dixon Line. On a 2011 road trip, my GPS gave me bad directions in Morgantown, WV. I was trying to go to Maryland, and this sign was the first evidence that I had made a wrong turn. Immediately after that, I came upon another sign, which said I was now in Pennsylvania.
7. Just about every important American politician was at the Constitutional Convention, prompting Thomas Jefferson to declare, "It is really an assembly of demigods." In fact, it is easier to keep track of which Founding Fathers weren't at the Convention. Jefferson and John Adams did not attend because they were serving as diplomats in Europe. John Hancock, Philip Schuyler and John Jay weren't there, either, though they supported the proceedings. On the other hand, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, James Monroe and Richard Henry Lee all opposed the Convention, predicting that the government it formed would be a threat to the people's freedom; they soon became Anti-Federalists.
8. If you want to read the Constitution for yourself, check out the online version at the National Archives website. At approximately 4,400 words, it is the shortest constitution of any modern nation.
9. The most visible members of the executive branch, besides the president and vice president, were the Cabinet. They didn't get much attention at this time because there were only four positions to fill: Secretary of State, Secretary of War, Secretary of the Treasury, and Attorney General. The job of Postmaster General was carried over from the Continental Congress and the Confederation, but it was not yet a Cabinet-level position. All other Cabinet members and their departments came later, as part of the federal government's growth.
10. Congress chose the bald eagle as the national bird in 1782. However, the eagle had already been used as the symbol of several nations, at least as far back as ancient Rome. Benjamin Franklin thought the turkey would have been more appropriate, and explained why in a letter to his daughter: "For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
11. Before the Constitution was written, there had been some talk about making Washington the king of America. It didn't go very far, as you might expect; the Patriots hadn't gotten rid of King George III, just to crown another King George in his place! Even worse, from a dynastic perspective, Washington could not establish a royal family, because he had no children.
12. The name "Federalist" was a propaganda coup as well, for it actually describes a system closer to what the Anti-Federalists wanted; "federalism" means a sharing of power between national, state and local governments. In the Constitution, the idea of different governments sharing power was an afterthought, which finally appeared in the form of the 10th Amendment.
13. In 1795 the Eleventh Amendment, which spelled out the rights of states in the event they are sued by somebody living in another state, was added to the Constitution. This probably would have been part of the Bill of Rights, had it been proposed and ratified a few years earlier.
14. There is a tradition of sorts where Americans make fun of whoever happens to be in the number two spot. Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle are two vice presidents in recent history who became the butt of jokes all too often. The best example comes from the 1930s Broadway musical "Of Thee I Sing," where a very dull fellow, Alexander Throttlebottom, becomes vice president. Nobody gives him any attention, and to get into the White House, he has to sneak in with a tour group; only then does he find out what his duties are! This kind of humor may have started all the way back with Adams, because he thought the vice presidency was a miserable job. In a letter to his wife Abigail, he wrote, "My country has, in its wisdom, contrived for me the most insignificant office ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."
15. To give the national government an "A-1" credit rating from the start, Hamilton wanted to pay off the IOUs at their face value. The nation had been in an economic slump for so long, that most of the IOUs had been sold by their original owners. Investors tended to collect IOUs, but unlike gold, stamps or baseball cards, their value had steadily dropped over the years. Therefore, paying them off at face value meant a handsome profit for the folks holding them now.
17. Some rebels tried to get out of paying the distilled liquor tax by fleeing to Kentucky or Tennessee, where federal authority was harder to enforce. There they found a combination of good corn-growing land and limestone-filtered water, allowing them to make a better product than they had previously. Thus, the Whiskey Rebellion led to the birth of the whiskey and bourbon industries in those states; Jim Beam was founded a year later! It also gave inspiration to the "Moonshiners" who illegally distilled liquor in much of the South later on.
18. The war scare prompted Congress to order the construction of six frigates, creating the first US Navy since the end of the American Revolution, when all surviving ships were sold and their crewmen were discharged.
19. As you might expect, there were some abuses under the Alien & Sedition Acts. The most famous victim was Matthew Lyon, an Irish immigrant who became a congressman from Vermont. Lyon was a Democratic-Republican, and one day in Congress a Connecticut Federalist, Roger Griswold, insulted Lyon's record of military service during the American Revolution, and Lyon responded by spitting in his face. When they met again two weeks later, Griswold attacked with a cane, and Lyon fought back with a pair of fireplace tongs, providing Congress with the first good fight in its history. Four months later Lyon was imprisoned for writing a letter criticizing President Adams; Thomas Jefferson helped pay his $1,000 fine, and the Green Mountain Republicans held rallies outside his cell to make sure he got reelected, so Lyon is the only person who ever successfully campaigned for a Congressional seat while in jail.
20. After becoming president, Jefferson described the White House as "a great stone house, big enough for two emperors, one pope and the grand lama in the bargain." And this was before the East and West Wings were built!
21. Burr used the Tammany Society (also known as Tammany Hall) to make sure New York voted Democratic-Republican in the 1800 election, turning it into a political organization that dominated New York City for the next century and a half. Later on, prominent Tammany leaders included President Martin Van Buren, more than one NYC mayor, and Governor Alfred E. Smith. However, Tammany Hall also came to be seen as a hotbed of corruption, especially under William M. Tweed--but that's a story for the next chapter.
22. This was the only time that the Electoral College was successfully reformed. Every few years there is talk of reforming it again, or doing away with it entirely, especially when it looks like the system is no longer working right (the 2000 election is a recent example). Those measures have never gotten anywhere, so unless we experience a second American Revolution, the Electoral College is as certain a thing as death, taxes and shipping/handling charges.
23. Jefferson was also an accomplished farmer, lawyer, architect, inventor, naturalist, philosopher, and scientist, and spoke six languages.
24. The previous footnote mentioned Jefferson's interest in science, and he got along well with Alexander von Humboldt, the famous Prussian naturalist. Humboldt first visited Jefferson in June 1804, after spending five years exploring Latin America. Margaret Bayard Smith, diarist and the wife of an important newspaper publisher, gave this story of the Prussian's encounter with American-style freedom of the press:
25. One aspect of the Lewis & Clark Expedition doesn't get reported in most books, and if it ever appears in the form of a movie or TV documentary, that show will need a warning label: "For adult audiences only." The explorers discovered that the various Indian tribes had different sexual practices, which they felt compelled to try out; thus, venereal disease was a constant problem on their journey. One of the treatments for VD back then was to take pills containing traces of mercury, leading to a proverb: "A night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury." Indeed, at Fort Clatsop, scientists found the exact location of the camp latrines by looking for traces of mercury in the soil. When it came time for a night with the natives, the most popular member of the expedition was Clark's personal slave, York. Most of these Indians had never seen a black man before; they called him "Big Medicine," and wanted to find out how good he was in bed. As a result, Lewis reported that York became a father several times before the trip was over.
26. Aaron Burr lived just long enough to hear about the Texas War of Independence. It reminded him of his own plans for Texas, and he remarked, "What was treason in me thirty years ago, is patriotism now."
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