The Anglo-American Adventure
Chapter 3: Pioneer America, Part IV
1783 to 1861 (USA), 1783 to 1867 (Canada)
This paper is divided into four parts, which cover the following topics:
Mormons, Doughfaces, and the California Gold Rush
While the Mexican War was going on, the Mormons made their contribution to America's growth. In 1846 Joseph Smith's successor, Brigham Young, abandoned Nauvoo, Illinois, the LDS Church's most recent home, and led five thousand members of the faith west, hoping to get completely away from their persecutors (and also Young's rivals for leadership of the movement). They followed the Oregon Trail at first, but in their winter quarters in Nebraska, Young listened to fur traders and missionaries describe what they saw on their adventures, and decided to turn off the trail when they passed Great Salt Lake, on July 24, 1847. For Young the area around the lake was a magnificent desolation, a land so barren that even the Indians didn't want it very much, so he settled here.(58) The plan was to create an independent nation called "Deseret," which would encompass the entire Great Basin region and have an outlet to the sea in southern California. Unfortunately for the Mormons, the US Army traveled west faster than they did; General Kearny got to San Diego months before Brigham Young reached Great Salt Lake. Then when California applied to become a state, Young and his church elders figured that statehood was the next best thing to independence, so they wrote a constitution and petitioned Washington to grant statehood for Deseret. The national government balked at the proposal, because Deseret was too big, and there was considerable controversy over which Mormon customs would be tolerated, especially polygamy. They had to put somebody in charge of the territory, though, and most of it wasn't claimed by anybody else, so in 1850 about half of the Great Basin (modern Nevada, Utah, western Colorado and southwest Wyoming) was organized into the Utah Territory, named after the Ute Indians, with Young as its first governor.
The 1848 presidential election showed how flexible the Whigs could be; after spending two years attacking the Mexican War in every way they knew how, they turned around and nominated General Zachary Taylor for president. All they had to do was repeat the campaign strategy that worked in 1840, with "Old Rough and Ready" instead of "Old Tippecanoe" as the candidate for the ordinary man.(59) The Democrats thought they had the perfect candidate in Lewis Cass of Michigan; not only did he have the war-hero credentials that were so desirable in those days, but he also struck a balance between the northern and southern parts of the country by being a Northerner with a southern attitude concerning slavery. A generation earlier, John Randolph coined a word for such a politician: "doughface."
For the Abolitionists, the Liberty Party and anti-slavery Democrats joined forces to form the Free Soil Party, and nominated former President Van Buren.(60) Charles Francis Adams, the son of John Quincy Adams, became his running mate; their slogan was "Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Man." Although they did not win in any states, they got ten percent of the vote, which is better than average for third parties, and elected two senators and fourteen representatives to Congress. They may have also decided the election in Taylor's favor, as the Liberty Party had done for Polk.
The Whigs were able to reverse their stand on the recently concluded war because the latest news from the west coast convinced critics that the war wasn't a mistake after all. Near Sacramento, John Sutter had built a sawmill on the American River, and on January 24, 1848, one of his workers, James Marshall, came to him with a wet rag containing shiny dust and some shiny flakes he had found. It was gold all right, and Sutter wanted to keep it a secret, because he still was more interested in farming than in mining; word got out anyway, and much of the world went wild when it heard the news. Soon more Americans were heading west than had marched on Mexico, using both ships and wagons; they were joined by Russians, Hawaiians, Australians and Chinese from their own native lands. In just one year San Francisco went from being Yerba Buena, a village of 50 adobe huts, to a rowdy boom town with makeshift houses, a harbor full of abandoned ships, and a floating, mostly male population of 20,000 (I say "floating" because every able-bodied man went to Sacramento, to try his luck at prospecting), where ham and eggs cost $3 a plate and a gambling tent on the Plaza was rented for $40,000 a year. Settlers who had just arrived in Oregon now reloaded their wagons and headed south; Mexicans who were supposed to be leaving California turned around and went back. By the end of 1848 $3.7 million worth of gold had been recovered.
Most of those who had caught the gold fever didn't arrive until 1849, so they were known as "forty-niners." The easiest pickings were gone by then, and as with other gold rushes, most of the participants did not strike it rich (James Marshall, the one who found the first bit of gold, died poor and crazy). And whether you dig for gold or pan for it in streams, you are doing hard work--it's not really nature's lottery, as so many believe--so the typical "forty-niner" would sell or give up his claim after a few unhappy months in the mining camps. Finally, large companies are better equipped to find and get valuable minerals than individual prospectors, so they took over most of the mining within a few years. Still, all the new arrivals made California a roaring success.(61) By the end of 1849, 96,000 had made the journey to California; by 1855 it was 300,000. This allowed California to do without the usual period of time as a territory before statehood; once military rule ended in 1849, the locals elected a governor and legislature, adopted a constitution that banned slavery, and announced they were ready to become a free state.(62)
Earlier we saw Northerners protest when Missouri and Texas applied to join the Union as slave states; now it was the South's turn to feel dismayed. Not only would California's entry upset the slave-free balance between the states again, but much of California was south of the 36° 30' line which had been agreed to in the Missouri Compromise. Of course the Compromise had only applied to the Louisiana Purchase, but as the United States expanded westward, continuing the 36° 30' line to the Pacific was the least that Southerners expected; some called for moving the line between slave and free states farther north, while others insisted that throughout the West, there should be no restrictions on slavery at all. Now California had taken away the only part of the west coast the South could claim. If everybody stuck with the 36° 30' line, the only territories left for future slave states were Oklahoma and New Mexico (which then included Arizona)--not exactly the most desirable places to live! As had been the case twenty years earlier, South Carolina's leaders were the most outraged state of all, and again they talked about seceding from the Union. Northerners weren't as intransigent, but some of them declared it was time to bring back and enforce the Wilmot Proviso (see footnote #57).
Most politicians were horrified at the thought of the nation coming apart, of course, and they rushed to reach an agreement, which became known as the Compromise of 1850. This was the last meeting of the men who dominated Congress in the early nineteenth century: John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster. Much of the Compromise was Clay's work, as you might expect, but because he was 72 years old and ailing, it was a Democrat senator from Illinois, Stephen Arnold Douglas, who got it into the form that was finally voted on. This took until September 1850, meaning that Congress stayed in session five months later than usual for that year. President Taylor opposed it (he wanted to see California, New Mexico and Utah all declared free states immediately), so if he hadn't died that summer, it probably wouldn't have been passed. In a nutshell, it was package deal that called for the following:
A scene from the debates that led to the Compromise of 1850. Here Henry Clay has recovered enough strength to take the floor. Daniel Webster is seated on the left, with his head in his hand; John C. Calhoun is the third one standing from the right, next to the chair occupied by Vice President Fillmore.
We mentioned above that Zachary Taylor had died while the debates over California were going on. Old Rough and Ready may have been able to survive battles where bullets ripped his shirt and coat lining, but a series of speeches made in the middle of a Washington, D.C. summer was too much for him. He fell ill after Fourth of July celebrations, and five days later he was dead. To this day we aren't sure what brought him down. His doctors diagnosed him as having cholera morbus, while more recent historians have suggested it was regular cholera, typhoid fever, a heat stroke, or even food poisoning, brought about by the snack of iced milk, cherries and pickles that he had on Independence Day.(65) His vice president, Millard Fillmore, took over for the remaining two years and eight months of his term.
Fillmore regarded slavery as evil, but felt that if he did something about it, the Whigs would lose too many members and never win another election. Consequently, when the Fugitive Slave Act arrived on his desk, many northern Whigs wanted him to veto it, but he signed it into law instead. This marked him as the first of the three doughface presidents, who ran the United States ineffectively during the 1850s.
To Northerners, the Fugitive Slave Act was simply immoral. Under it a black person could be arrested anywhere, could not have a trial by jury, could not testify or summon witnesses to speak on his behalf, and could be shipped to his master even if he had been free for years. Many local governments ignored the law, and some small towns even passed laws making it a crime to enforce the act.(66) In fact, the act had been passed to stop those Northerners who were helping slaves escape. As early as 1810 a network of Abolitionists had been smuggling slaves to the north side of the Mason & Dixon Line. Called the Underground Railroad, this network did not have tracks like a real railroad, nor did it use trains much, but to keep with the railroad terminology, it did have its own set of "stations," "conductors," signals and timetables.(67) It is believed that as many as 30,000 slaves gained their freedom this way. At first most slaves were free as soon as they made it to a free state, but after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, they (and many ex-slaves who already lived in the North) found it safer to keep going until they reached Canada.
The 1852 presidential election was possibly the worst managed in American history. Whereas in a typical election one, and hopefully both of the major parties, puts forth a candidate who will make a suitable president if elected, in 1852 both the Whigs and the Democrats nominated individuals who were lousy campaigners, and probably couldn't have served competently, either. Among the Whigs, the Compromise of 1850 left them deeply divided between pro- and anti-slavery factions, and the anti-slavery Whigs had enough votes to keep Fillmore from being nominated for a second term. They went with yet another war hero, General Winfield Scott, because running war heroes had worked so well for them in 1840 and 1848. Although Scott was a Northerner, his party platform endorsed the 1850 Compromise, which currently was more popular in the South; this was the first of several paradoxes that marked the 1852 campaign. As for the Democrats, they were deadlocked when they tried to nominate one of their better-known members, so they settled on a dark horse candidate, New Hampshire Governor Franklin Pierce, nominating him on the 49th ballot. Pierce, like Fillmore, felt that the less he said about the slave question, the better, so he seemed like the kind of candidate who could heal the political wounds of recent years. He also had been a general in the Mexican War, but unlike Scott, Pierce didn't have a service record to be proud of. On the two occasions during the war when he was supposed to lead a cavalry charge, Pierce fell off his horse and got left behind by his own men. Then, when the army was marching on Mexico City, Pierce was immobilized in his tent with diarrhea, and to top it off, he had a drinking problem, causing some to laugh at him as the "Hero of Many a Well-Fought Bottle."
In a campaign like this, where all the candidates were weak and uninspiring, victory was likely to go to the major party which fumbled the least. That turned out to be the Democrats. Scott had not resigned his commission when nominated, so when President Fillmore sent him on a minor military assignment in Kentucky, he went there by way of Pennsylvania and Ohio, so he could make some campaign stops in those states. Both states contained quite a few immigrants who had arrived in the late 1840s, and they would be voting for the first time. Unfortunately, Scott's only useful talent was his ability to win battles; Old Fuss and Feathers proved to be a pompous windbag on the campaign trail. In Pennsylvania and Ohio he started his speeches with the standard "My fellow Americans," and then explained at great length that naturalized immigrants are Americans, too. This offended native-born Americans, who tended to be prejudiced against immigrants; the latest wave of immigrants came from Ireland and southern Germany, meaning that they were hard-drinking, prone to start fights, and worst of all, Catholic. From there, Scott had nowhere to go but down. At one stop a man with an Irish accent yelled a question at Scott, and instead of answering, Scott exclaimed "Oh, the Irish brogue!" and went into a speech about how he loved the sound of the Irish brogue, that he had "heard it many times upon the field of battle," hoped to hear it many more times, and how much he admired the "brave men of Eire." Whig leaders slapped their heads in disbelief when they read a transcript of the speech, immigrant voters were left unimpressed by this performance, and it alienated the "Conscience Whigs" who claimed the high moral ground; the latter threatened to leave in droves.
The two most prominent Whig leaders, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, died before election day, leaving the Whigs leaderless and divided. The final vote was an overwhelming victory for Pierce. Scott only carried four states, two northern (Vermont and Massachusetts) and two southern (Kentucky and Tennessee), which shows that both the North and South felt much the same way about the candidates. Even the Free Soilers did badly in this campaign; their candidate, John Parker Hale, got 5 percent of the popular vote, only half of what the Free Soil Party had gotten last time. For the Whigs, the results were so devastating that their party disintegrated over the next two years; after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, those Whigs who hadn't left to join other parties were simply known as the "Opposition Party."
When looking for ways to spread their "peculiar institution," Southerners had no shortage of ideas. A campaign to bring back the trans-Atlantic slave trade got nowhere; that was too obviously a step in the wrong direction. Others talked about expanding southward into Latin America, because the Mexican War had been such a success. Indeed, President Polk probably had this in mind in 1848, when he sent a diplomat to Spain with an offer to buy Cuba for $100 million. It was rejected, but even if it had been accepted, Northerners made it clear they would oppose any efforts to purchase or conquer more land, if it was going to become new slave states.(68)
One Southern proposal did have a permanent effect on the US--the building of a transcontinental railroad, to connect the east and west coasts. Folks back then did not imagine that the day would come when railroads would run through every western state, so it was felt that when a transcontinental railroad was built, the state on the eastern end of it would earn great profits from commerce. Northerners and Southerners began lobbying for railroads that began in the North and South respectively, and President Pierce, in an effort to keep Southerners happy, endorsed a southern route, which would start in Memphis, and run through Arkansas, Texas and New Mexico to reach California. The problem was that New Mexico was the home of the fierce Apache tribes. To go around the Apache, a railroad would have to be built south of the Gila River, which was then Mexican Territory. Pierce sent his minister to Mexico, James Gadsden, to find a solution; Gadsden offered Santa Anna $15 million for the Mexican state of Sonora. In the final treaty, known as the Gadsden Purchase (signed in 1853, ratified in 1854), the price was reduced to $10 million, and the land in question was reduced from all of Sonora to just a strip below the Gila, which became the southernmost part of present-day Arizona and New Mexico. With that agreement, the borders of the continental United States reached the positions they have held ever since.
Into the picture now stepped Stephen Douglas, the bold, tobacco-chewing Illinois senator who was called the "Little Giant" by his admirers. Now that Henry Clay was gone, Douglas became the great compromiser in Congress. His biggest dream was to have the transcontinental railroad begin in his home state, so as a compromise between Northerners and Southerners, he called for a central route, of which the first leg would run from Chicago to Council Bluffs, Iowa. The only obstacle here was that no part of the Great Plains north of Texas had been developed yet; the first step in developing the Plains would be to organize it into one or more territories. He spent the early 1850s lobbying for this, the result being the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Under this, the Great Plains would have two territorial governments, Kansas in the south, and Nebraska in the north. To deal with the slavery question, Douglas called for "popular sovereignty"; let each territory vote on whether it would be slave or free, and let those results be accepted by everyone. He spoke for those who took a moderate point of view on slavery, those who wanted to put the issue behind them and move on to something else. "I do not care whether slavery is voted up or voted down," he once said.
The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act should have been one of Douglas' finest moments, but it turned out to be a disaster. In the name of popular sovereignty, Douglas had voided all the compromises made over the past 34 years. Now any territory west of the Mississippi that had once been declared free could become a slave state. After this the controversy over slavery and states' rights got louder, instead of being temporarily silenced; many in the South came to believe that war was the only way to settle the matter, while many in the North lost their patience both with the South and with the existing political parties.(69)
The disappearance of the Whigs left a political vacuum, and because of it, this was the only time in American history that a minor party grew to become one of the two major parties. Most ex-Whigs either became Democrats if they were neutral or pro-slavery, or joined the Free Soil Party if they were against it. Others, like former President Fillmore, became Know-Nothings (see the next section). The Free Soil Party grew so big and so fast that many felt it needed a new name, and Alvan Bovay, a young lawyer in Ripon, Wisconsin, provided the name by digging up one that no major party had used in twenty years. In February 1854 he wrote a letter to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, asking for help in organizing all opponents of slavery into a new party: "Urge them to forget previous political names and organizations, and to band together under the name I suggested to you in 1852. I mean the name REPUBLICAN." Greeley said yes, but reluctantly: "I am a beaten, broken-down, used-up politician, and have the soreness of many defeats in my bones. However, I am ready to follow any lead that promises to hasten the day of Northern emancipation."(70)
The Republican Party's first meeting was held in the Ripon schoolhouse, one month after that exchange of letters. The leaders chosen were a committee that consisted of three Conscience Whigs, one Barnburner Democrat, and one Free Soiler. Similar groups formed all over the North. In May 1854 thirty congressmen in Washington declared themselves "Republicans," replacing the nickname of "Anti-Nebraska men" that they had used while debating the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In February 1856 the party scored its first victory by electing a former Free Soiler, Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts, as speaker of the House of Representatives. The election had been a bitter one, requiring 133 ballots and keeping Congress too deadlocked to do anything else for nine weeks. As a child, Banks had worked in a cotton mill, so some called him "Bobbin Boy Banks"; he actually was a member of the Know-Nothing Party when he got to be speaker, and had to become a Republican before the next election. His opponent, William Aiken of South Carolina, owned 1,100 slaves.
The Ripon schoolhouse today.
Though Northerners saw the Kansas-Nebraska Act as an act of appeasement, there was still a chance to keep the territories free--if they could get enough anti-slavery voters to move there. Several thousand settlers rose to the occasion, some of them coming from as far away as New England. However, the South was ready for this, because one of their states, Missouri, is next to Kansas. The Northerners were armed (their rifles were called "Beecher's Bibles" because Henry Ward Beecher, the famous preacher, collected money to pay for them), so gangs of "border ruffians" armed themselves, crossed over from Missouri, and took over the polling stations in Kansas. When the first election was held, for a congressional delegate, in November 1854, corrupt officials decided which ballots would be counted and which would be thrown away. Half of the ballots did not come from registered voters, and in one place, only 20 out of 600 voters were legal residents of the district. The pro-slavery candidate won, and the border ruffians returned to Missouri. In March 1855, they came back and did the same kind of ballot box stuffing in the election for a territorial legislature. As a result, the elected legislators supported slavery so strongly that they refused to seat members who disagreed with them.
Of course the settlers from free states wouldn't stand for this, and in August 1855 they met at Topeka to form their own government. President Pierce refused to recognize the free-state government, calling it a "revolution" against the rightful leaders of Kansas. On May 21, 1856, an invading force of Missourians plundered and burned Lawrence, the free capital. This prompted John Brown, an Abolitionist fanatic, to lead seven men, four of his sons and three others, in an attack on the pro-slavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek; they dragged five men from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords (the "Pottawatomie Massacre"). In the tit-for-tat violence that followed, the objective of each group switched from bringing in voters who were on their side, to decreasing the number of live voters on the other side. Outsiders called the conflict "Bleeding Kansas," and while only 55 people were killed altogether, most realized that it was a rehearsal for something bigger.
One of the battles of Bleeding Kansas took place right on Capitol Hill. When the fighting started, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, one of the most outspoken of the new Republicans, delivered a powerful speech on "the crime against Kansas," in which he blamed the whole crisis on the South. Three days later, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked Sumner with a cane, beating him on the head until the cane broke. Sumner was knocked unconscious, and so badly injured that it took him three years to recover. "Bully" Brooks got off with only a $300 fine, and admirers in the South sent him dozens of new canes and a gold-handled whip.
The 1856 election saw the Republicans make their first attempt to capture the White House. They nominated John C. Frémont, the glamorous hero of California. He was only 43 years old, and his young wife, Jessie, also figured prominently in the campaigns, because they made an attractive couple. This was the first time sex appeal was used to elect a president. Republican ads usually showed John and Jessie together, ignoring the vice-presidential candidate completely, and the ads contrasted them with Buchanan, who was a 65-year-old bachelor. And since the party was made up of fiery Abolitionists at this stage, the Republican campaign became a crusade against slavery:
"Arise, arise ye braves,
Slavery and Kansas, however, weren't the only issues concerning Northerners. In recent years there had been considerable fear of immigrants, especially Catholic ones; many Protestants saw them as agents of Pope Pius IX, a known enemy of liberty and Protestantism. In 1843 an anti-Catholic party called the "American Republicans" formed, and one year later it managed to elect mayors in New York City and Philadelphia, and provoke a series of riots in the latter; twenty-four people were killed and two old Catholic churches were burned before order was restored. Their platform called for two reforms: the banning of all naturalized Americans from public office, and an increase in the waiting time for citizenship to 21 years. Then it changed its name to the Native American Party, and spread to other states. It was organized as a secret society; no central leadership existed, members pledged to vote the way their leaders told them to vote, and they were supposed to answer any question about their organization with "I know nothing," so among outsiders they were better known as the Know-Nothings. They peaked in the mid-1850s when hundreds of thousands of ex-Whigs joined them; they elected governors in seven states, as well as several mayors, and nominated Millard Fillmore as their presidential candidate for 1856, under the slogan "I know nothing but my Country, my whole Country, and nothing but my Country." Fillmore got 22 percent of the popular vote and carried the state of Maryland, but that still left him in third place. Having lost the race to replace the Whigs, the Know-Nothings faded away quickly; most joined other parties by the end of the decade.
The Republicans were too radical for much of the eastern establishment; bankers, leaders of industry and Wall Street were frightened by the idea that the South might secede if Frémont got elected. They poured in money until the Democrats could outspend the Republicans ten to one. The Know-Nothings spread a false rumor that Frémont was a practicing Catholic, while Democrats declared that Frémont wasn't fit to be president because of his illegitimate birth. Still others portrayed the Republicans as a party for "n*gg*r-lovers," "red" extremists, prohibitionists, cigar-smoking women and free-lovers. Even Jessie's father, the prominent senator Thomas Hart Benton, supported the Democratic campaign instead. On Election Day, Frémont got 33 percent of the popular vote and won in eleven northern states, not bad for a political party full of beginners. Still, the north was divided three ways, while the rest of the country was solidly Democratic, so Buchanan became the next president. When the Frémonts heard the news, Jessie joked that her father was responsible: "Colonel Benton, I perceive, has the best of the family argument."
Buchanan's victory did nothing to ease North-South tensions, and the election was close enough that Frémont could have won, had he carried Indiana and Pennsylvania. Thus, Buchanan looked even older and more depressed than usual when he was sworn in. Meanwhile in Kansas, the pro-slavery government established its capital at Lecompton, only twelve miles from Lawrence, and drafted what was called the "Lecompton Constitution"; Southerners demanded that Buchanan approve it immediately--or else. As the last doughface president, Buchanan was fearful of what might happen to the Union if he did otherwise, so he gave the document his blessing and sent it to Congress. The Senate approved it, but because it wasn't clear who was in charge in Kansas, the House ordered a new, fair election before it voted. By 1857 anti-slavery Kansans were clearly in the majority, so when the election was held, pro-slavery advocates boycotted it, and the Lecompton Constitution was voted down by more than six to one. Even the South could not dispute this result, and in 1859 Kansas wrote a new constitution, the Wyandotte Constitution, which reflected the Abolitionist point of view. Kansas would enter the Union as a free state.(71)
In his inaugural address, Buchanan hinted that he had advance notice of a Supreme Court ruling that would settle the slavery question once and for all. That was the Dred Scott Decision, which was announced two days later (March 6, 1857). Dred Scott was a 61-year-old slave who had traveled a lot over the years because his master, John Emerson, was in the army and often got transferred from one place to another. Four of those years had been spent in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was illegal, so after Emerson died in 1843, Scott went to court to seek freedom for himself and his wife. The case was appealed from court to court, until it finally reached the Supreme Court, which ruled 7-2 that a slave does not become a free man if he happens to set foot in a free state or territory.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court at this time was Roger Taney, a decrepit 79-year-old Democrat and slaveholder from Maryland, who had held the job since Andrew Jackson appointed him to replace John Marshall, 24 years earlier. He could have refused to hear Dred Scott's case, but instead decided that this was his chance to throw the weight of the courts on the southern side of the slavery issue. He declared that the great words in the Declaration of Independence were never meant to include blacks, and that no slave had the right to become a citizen or sue in court, because, above all else, he was the property of his owner. And because all free men had property rights, Congress never should have legislated against slavery; this made laws like the Missouri Compromise, and even the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, null and void.
For Dred Scott himself, the ruling did not really matter; he was freed by his current owner shortly after the decision, and died of tuberculosis a year later. However, it was a political blunder in that it got many people who hadn't cared much about the issue off the fence. To those in the North and West, it now appeared that slavery had been made legal again in every free state, and judges like Taney were going to force it down their throats. Thus, the Dred Scott Decision was the most important event that made the American Civil War inevitable.
The Republicans made significant gains in the 1858 congressional elections, as a reaction to the Dred Scott Decision, giving them a plurality, but not a majority of the seats. In Illinois, Stephen Douglas was up for reelection, and Abraham Lincoln, a country lawyer whose political experience was limited to the single term he had served as a representative in the 1840s, decided that in order to stop the spread of slavery, he must go back into politics and run against Douglas. He threw his hat in the ring with his "House Divided" speech, which paraphrased what a Biblical verse, Matthew 12:25, said about disunity:
"'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other."
Lincoln's debates with Douglas attracted national attention, because they were seen as a debate on the issue of slavery. Whereas Douglas had presented the idea of letting the people decide everywhere, Lincoln declared that the time for compromises in the territories had ended, and expressed the Abolitionist viewpoint with words that could not be misunderstood by anyone. In the end, Douglas won the election, but Republican leaders did not forget Lincoln.
While politicians were trying to keep the situation from spiraling into a war, others were trying to get the war started. Among Northerners, the foremost example of a war-starter was John Brown, the guerrilla fighter who had gotten his experience in Kansas. Since the Pottawatomie Massacre, he had been a wanted man; at Osawatomie, he fought like a maniac against a larger party of attacking Missourians, and prevailed against the odds, earning him the nickname "Old Brown of Osawatomie." He was also accused of some raids in Missouri in which several slaves and horses were stolen, and at least one slaveowner was murdered. President Buchanan put a price on Brown's head, and the governments of Kansas and Missouri talked about apprehending him, but paradoxically, nobody wanted to take the first step and arrest Brown. He was too popular in the North, and if the authorities on either the federal or state level tried to stop him, they ran the risk of provoking riots by other Abolitionists. Therefore Brown was able to travel, though he had to use an alias, made speeches for the Abolitionist cause, and even raised funds for his ultimate project, the launching of a general uprising that would free all the slaves of the South. In 1858 he crossed the border into Canada, and at Chatham, Ontario, a town where one third of the people were escaped slaves, he had a constitution written for a revolutionary government that he planned to establish in the South, with himself as its commander in chief.
On October 16, 1859, John Brown put his plan into action. The idea at this point was to begin the revolution in the mountains of western Virginia, by capturing an arsenal and giving its weapons to the slaves when they rose up; in the mountains the slaves would also have plenty of places to hide or establish a refuge, should they be forced to defend themselves. Accordingly, he rode into Harpers Ferry, Virginia with a wagonload of pikes and an "army" of eighteen men. They killed two locals, captured the United States armory and barricaded themselves in there. However, the slaves in the area did not flock to join him; instead the local militia and a company of marines, led by Colonel Robert E. Lee, surrounded the building. In the resulting battle, ten of Brown's followers were killed, including two of Brown's sons, and Brown gave himself up after he was wounded. A trial soon followed, where Brown was convicted after he made an eloquent defense on how everything he did was to help the slaves, and he was hanged on December 2. During the Civil War, Southerners saw John Brown as a terrorist, while Northerners saw him as a martyr to the Abolitionist cause; a century later, civil rights activists also viewed him in the latter category.
The controversy over the John Brown affair showed how split the nation had become. The divisions also showed at that time in Congress, because it had to elect another Speaker of the House. The first ballot was held on December 5, 1859; sixteen candidates put forth their names, so nobody got more than a small fraction of the votes. To weed out some of the candidates, a Missouri congressman proposed disqualifying anyone who liked The Impending Crisis, an anti-slavery work. The next day a North Carolina representative proposed bringing back the gag rule, with a resolution that required every candidate to be against raising the slavery question. Both proposals were rejected, of course.
Ballot followed ballot for the next two months. The House was hopelessly divided into pro- and anti-slavery factions, each of which would only vote for one of its own. Finally on February 1, 1860, they elected William Pennington of New Jersey. Pennington got the job because he had no enemies on Capitol Hill, and he had no enemies because he wasn't even a member of Congress at the time of the first ballot. To get out of gridlock, the House of Representatives elected a freshman as its speaker!
In 1860 Lincoln and Douglas were opponents again, this time in the race for president of the United States. Because the Democratic Party was now as pro-southern as it could get and still win elections, all the South had to do to preserve its way of life was make sure Democrats stayed in control of the White House and Congress. Instead, they foolishly split the party over who would be its presidential candidate. The Democrats had originally decided to hold their convention in Charleston, as a concession to the South. When they met in April, Douglas enjoyed widespread support among Northerners, enough to keep Buchanan from running again, but many Southerners considered him a traitor, because he accepted the election that made Kansas free, and did not accept the Dred Scott Decision. 50 southern delegates walked out over a platform dispute, and Douglas couldn't get the two-thirds vote required for the nomination. After 57 ballots failed to unite the party behind a candidate, the Democrats gave up and adjourned.
The Republican convention of 1860 was held in Chicago in May, and at first the leading candidate was Senator William Seward of New York. Other candidates were Senator Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, and two favorite sons, Abraham Lincoln and Pennsylvania's Simon Cameron. Seward, however, had been the chief Abolitionist in Congress for the past decade, as thus was considered too radical by some. Chase and Cameron had alienated folks as well; both had been Democrats before becoming Republicans, and thus were not fully trusted, and Cameron had little support outside his home state. Lincoln's friends used these liabilities to his advantage, pointing out that because Lincoln was not as well known as the other candidates, he had made the fewest enemies; in addition, he was the only candidate who was sure to win in the West, being a Westerner himself, and his moderate stand on slavery appealed to those who thought a peaceful resolution of the issue was still possible.(72) Over the next few days they persuaded the delegates to ignore Lincoln's shortcomings; sure, he came from humble origins (unlike previous presidential candidates, he really was born in a log cabin!), had a homely face(73), and hadn't been very successful at anything besides practicing law, but his performance in the 1858 Senate debates showed he was the man they wanted. On the third ballot, Lincoln won the nomination.(74)
In June the Democrats convened again, this time in Baltimore, for the purpose of nominating a candidate. 110 southern Democrats walked out in the middle of the convention, because the other delegates would not adopt a resolution supporting slavery in the territories, but the rest stayed and picked Stephen Douglas. Refusing to accept this, the southern Democrats reconvened in Richmond and nominated Buchanan's vice president, John Breckinridge of Kentucky, as their candidate.(75)
On top of that, there were still a few Whigs and Know-Nothings around, a diehard remnant that couldn't bear to join either the Democrats or the Republicans. They formed the Constitutional Union Party, which had only one issue on its platform--reach whatever compromise was needed to save the nation and the Constitution. John Bell of Tennessee became their presidential candidate, and Edward Everett of Massachusetts was the vice-presidential candidate.(76) Because of their moderate attitude, they ended up winning three states in the middle of the country: Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.
The results for the 1860 election were the opposite of what they had been in 1856; the North was united, while the South was divided three ways. Some states voted in October, to beat November snowstorms, and the way those states voted convinced Douglas that he wasn't going to win, so he spent the rest of the campaign trying to reunite the Democrats. Lincoln got less than 40 percent of the popular vote (he wasn't even on the ballot in nine southern states), but because Northerners were fed up with southern intransigence, he won in every free state except New Jersey, and that gave him a solid electoral majority.
The final attempt to keep the nation from splitting in two was the Crittenden Compromise. Proposed in December 1860 by John Crittenden, a Kentucky senator, it offered six constitutional amendments and four congressional resolutions, designed to placate the South. The compromise's main feature was that it brought back the 36 30' line of the Missouri Compromise, permanently banning slavery north of the line and guaranteeing it south of the line; moreover, none of the changes, once accepted, could be repealed or amended later. Lincoln rejected it immediately, because he had been elected on an anti-slavery platform, and this compromise offered no hope of freedom for the slaves. Now both the North and the South prepared for the war they knew was coming. Buchanan knew it too, because he had done so little to prevent the Union's breakup, feeling he could not legally stop a state from seceding.(77) On his last day as president, Buchanan told Lincoln, "If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man."
This Republican cartoon shows the American eagle, before and after the do-nothing Buchanan presidency. Diagnosis: the bird is still alive, but not well!
The same trend toward "responsible government" was going on in the Atlantic colonies at the same time. Joseph's Howe's Reform Party achieved it for Nova Scotia in 1848, and similar governments were established in Prince Edward Island in 1851, New Brunswick in 1854, and Newfoundland in 1855. Britain still appointed the governors and controlled foreign policy and defense, but all over British North America, local affairs were now handled by the people living there, and unlike the British Isles, all men could vote if they owned enough property (most did at this stage).
Both Canada West and Canada East produced several political parties in the last twenty years before independence, but because the new system favored just two parties, as in the United States and Britain, they formed two broad coalitions in each half of Canada. Reformers, or liberals, were nicknamed Grits in Canada West and Rouges in Canada East; they were in favor of universal education, individual rights, and the interests of farmers and small-business owners. Conservatives were called Tories in Canada West and Bleus in Canada East, and their platform emphasized loyalty to Britain, respect for tradition, and a willingness to have the government cooperate with business, the way the HBC did.
The most important achievement in foreign policy was the signing in 1854 of the Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty, which abolished US tariffs on Canadian products, in return for fishing rights for American ships near Canada's Atlantic coast. The treaty was only in effect for twelve years (the Americans voided it in 1866 because they no longer felt they were getting anything out of it), but it set a precedent for the negotiation of more free-trade agreements in the twentieth century. Most important, however, was the way it defused lingering tensions. After the treaty was signed, Americans stopped talking about another war to avenge the defeats of 1775 and 1812, and since then, the US-Canadian border has been called the longest unfortified frontier in the world.
Hudson's Bay Company built Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island, as its Pacific headquarters, in 1843. Three years later, the southern half of the Oregon country was ceded to the United States, meaning it was now time to organize the territory that remained in British hands.(79) Most of the British citizens who had been living south of latitude 49o N were relocated to Vancouver Island, and while they were greatly outnumbered by the natives (500 British vs. about 30,000 Indians), the move justified making the island into a new colony (1849). James Douglas, the HBC's senior officer at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River, became the Company's director over all operations west of the Rockies, and in 1851, governor of Vancouver Island as well.
In 1857 rumors came from the west coast that gold had been found in the valley of the Thompson River, a tributary of the Fraser. Over the next year, the "Fraser Canyon Gold Rush" brought in between 10,000 and 20,000 prospectors, merchants, and speculators, many of them not British citizens. Though Douglas was not in charge on the mainland, he tried to impose British authority by stationing a gunboat at the mouth of the Fraser River, and forcing every boat that tried to go upstream to pay for a license; he also felt it was his duty to try to prevent violence between the newcomers and local Indian tribes. The official British response was to create a new colony, British Columbia, in 1858 (previously the HBC had called the land west of the Rockies "New Caledonia"). Douglas was offered the governorship on condition that he resign from the HBC. He agreed, and also accepted a knighthood; from 1858 until his retirement in 1864, he was governor of both Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Then in 1866, Vancouver Island was merged with British Columbia to create a single colony/province.
Though the American Civil War was fought over issues that had nothing to do with Canada, it threatened to spill across the border. This convinced Canadians that they needed to unite under a stronger government, to stay out of the US orbit. The first incident was the St. Albans Raid, a Confederate attempt to gain funds and create a diversion by attacking the Yankees from an unexpected direction. Twenty-one Confederate soldiers had managed to escape from Union captivity by fleeing to Canada, and on October 19, 1864, they struck across the border, into the town of St. Albans, Vermont. They killed one townsperson and stole $208,000 from three banks, but when they returned, a Union posse chased them and caught several on the Canadian side of the border. The captured raiders were turned over to Canadian authorities, and because Canada had been neutral throughout the Civil War, they were subsequently released without punishment; the stolen money found on them ($88,000) was returned, though. Afterwards there was talk in the northern United States about starting a war with Canada and Britain, prompting the stationing of 2,000 Canadian militiamen along the US border in early 1865.
The other incident was a series of raids staged by the Fenian Brotherhood, a radical Irish nationalist movement that had been founded in the United States in 1858. After the Civil War ended, the Fenians, their ranks swollen by Irish-American veterans from the war, split into two factions; one faction concentrated its efforts on raising funds for anti-British rebels in Ireland, while the other wanted to open a new front against the British by attacking targets in Canada. The first of the Fenian Raids, an attempt to capture New Brunswick's Campobello Island by at least 700 members of the movement, was quickly dispersed (April 1866), but in June an even larger group, numbering between 1,500 and 3,000, invaded Canada West from Buffalo, New York.(80) They met the Canadian militia at Ridgeway, just west of Fort Erie, and the resulting battle was decided by the lack of combat experience among the Canadians; nine Canadians were killed and thirty-seven were wounded. For the Fenians, it was the first time Irishmen had beaten the British since the battle of Fontenoy, fought more than a century earlier in the War of the Austrian Succession. Then the Fenians occupied Fort Erie, but when they realized that no reinforcements would be able to join them, they returned to Buffalo, just five days after the invasion started, and were arrested by American naval personnel. A third raid, called the Pigeon Hill Raid, was staged from Vermont into Canada East (also in June 1866); it failed as well. US President Andrew Johnson sent two Civil War generals, Ulysses Grant and George Meade, to Buffalo to crack down on the offenders and make sure no more border violations took place; after two minor raids from Vermont and New Hampshire (1870 and 1871 respectively), the Fenian scare was over.
Meanwhile, the first meeting to discuss a plan of union was held at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in 1864. The conference started with delegates from just three colonies (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island), until delegates from Canada unexpectedly joined them. They felt the need to get involved because of the issue of representation: Canada West and Canada East still had the same number of seats in their Legislative Assembly, but Canada West had grown until it had a much greater population. The Grits, led by journalist George Brown, wanted more representatives for Canada West, but French Canadians in Canada East, still fearing assimilation, wanted to keep the existing system. Brown's solution was to split Canada back into two provinces, with possible union in a federation with the rest of British North America. Before sending delegates to Charlottetown, Brown formed a three-party coalition with the Tories, led by John MacDonald, and the Bleus, led by Georges-Etienne Cartier, and they proposed to the Maritime colonies that all of British North America should be united under one government. Other delegates were quickly won over, leading to a second conference in Quebec City before 1864 was over. Here they agreed that a confederation would be the type of government most likely to protect the individual character of each colony, and they drafted a constitution, which they called the Seventy-Two Resolutions, for their confederation. This sounds a lot like the process that created the US Constitution, but unlike the American Founding Fathers, their Canadian counterparts did not want to make a complete break with the mother country. Consequently, Queen Victoria and her appointed governor-general would remain at the top of the government hierarchy (albeit as figureheads, the most powerful executive would be an elected prime minister).
The "Confederation Fathers," Canada's founders, meeting in Quebec City. John MacDonald is standing in the middle.
The period from 1864 to 1867 saw the Seventy-Two Resolutions debated and voted on, by Britain's Parliament as well as by the colonial legislatures, in a process very similar to the ratification of the US Constitution, nearly eighty years earlier. Among the colonies, only Canada West showed much enthusiasm for the drafted document. Canada East voted to approve it as well, but not before the Rouges accused Cartier and his allies of betraying French-speaking Canadians. New Brunswick was reluctant to ratify the Resolutions at first, thinking that Canada East and West would be sure to dominate the future union, until the Fenian raid on Campobello Island changed the minds of local politicians and voters--then they ratified the document. Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland voted no, and British Columbia had become a colony too recently to be interested in any more changes at this time. Thus, all three of those colonies would not be part of Canada when it got started as a nation, though they would join it later. Nova Scotia refused to ratify the Resolutions, but when New Brunswick voted yes, both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick sent delegates across the Atlantic, and in the London Conference (December 1866), they hammered out their differences in meetings with British officials, and made some small changes to the Resolutions.
On July 1, 1867, London passed the British North America Act, which created an autonomous state within the British Empire, and Canada as we know it was born. The original four Canadian provinces were Quebec (formerly Canada East), Ontario (formerly Canada West), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Queen Victoria chose Ottawa, a lumber milling town in eastern Ontario, as the site for Canada's capital, and in August John MacDonald was elected as the first prime minister. MacDonald talked about "founding a great British monarchy" and wanted to call his new nation the "Kingdom of Canada," but London did not want to give the United States any more reasons to be mad at Britain or her former colonies (the British had rooted for a Confederate victory during the US Civil War), so they went with an official name that wasn't so provocative: the Dominion of Canada. Later on, when Canada began to succeed under the dominion system, it became the model for how to turn other colonies loose, like Australia and New Zealand, and eventually led to the establishment of a future partnership between the United Kingdom and those colonies, the British Commonwealth of Nations.
The growth of the young United States is all the more impressive when one considers how it was achieved. Most of it came from natural fertility. The average American woman in those days had seven children. Of course, with doctors only beginning to understand how germs and infectious diseases work, some of those children didn't survive, but their chances of survival were quite good by eighteenth-century standards. What's more, they probably ate better than their counterparts in Europe; for the typical European, bread was the staff of life (potatoes in the case of Ireland), while Americans were already hearty consumers of meat. In other papers on this website, I discuss how industrialization can slow down birthrates, but most of the United States remained untouched by the Industrial Revolution until about 1850, so this braking effect wasn't a factor yet.(81) Finally, there was the attitude created by having a largely empty territory within the nation's borders; as long as they had new places to explore and settle, Americans would be optimistic about the future, and not too concerned about becoming overcrowded (that's why we don't see too many environmentalists before the twentieth century).
Immigration is the main reason why the United States continues to grow today, but for most of the period covered by this chapter, it wasn't very important. Until the 1840s, immigration never brought in more than 79,000 new citizens a year, and in some years as few as 6,000 arrived. Then came the Irish Potato Famine, and hundreds of thousands of Irish refugees crossed the Atlantic, because America was more hospitable to them than most of Europe was. They were soon followed by a wave of refugees from continental Europe, after the revolutions of 1848 failed; these included rebel leaders like Louis Kossuth of Hungary, and Giuseppe Garibaldi of Italy. As a result, between 1847 and 1857, 3.3 million immigrants--16 percent of the previous US population--arrived on America's shores. This helps to explain the anti-immigration backlash that produced the Know-Nothings.
Most of the immigrants mentioned in the above paragraph were Nordic Europeans who looked a lot like the whites already settled in the United States. However, in the mid-nineteenth century came signs that immigration wouldn't always follow that pattern; we noted that the California gold rush attracted Asian immigrants from across the Pacific. In the nineteenth century the Chinese were a small but noticeable part of west coast communities, performing menial labor and treated little better than slaves, but as they grew more numerous, Asian-Americans also became more successful, so it's good to point out when they first got established. Japanese immigrants started coming over after 1854, when Commodore Matthew Perry opened up Japan to the rest of the world.
Speaking of slaves, the population of black Americans also grew during this period, but not as rapidly as whites--from 700,000 in 1790 to nearly 4 million in 1860. Slaves have a lower reproductive rate than free people, for several reasons: they do not live as long, they find it more difficult to raise children, and they have a strong incentive not to have any children at all, if the kids are condemned to wear chains like their parents. In the years before the transatlantic slave trade was outlawed (1808), most of the black population growth came from new slaves being brought over from Africa. Eventually the Afro-American community reached a point where it could maintain itself through domestic births, but it wasn't until after slavery was abolished that they were able to grow at a rate comparable to that of their former masters.
It is also worth noting that about 95 percent of the black population was concentrated in the southern states. After the northern states freed their slaves, they kept laws on the books that discriminated against blacks, so free blacks (probably one eighth of the total) found it easier to live in the same states as the slaves.
For Canada, we don't have census figures covering this period that are as thorough as the ones we have for the United States. Still we can state with confidence that the population was 166,000 in the 1780s, and 3,463,000 at the time of independence in 1867. Among those in the 1867 community, two million traced their ancestry to the British Isles, and one million had ancestors who came from continental Europe (still mostly France). Only 56,000 (1.6% of the total) were nonwhite, and they were almost evenly divided between Native Americans (Inuit as well as Indians) and ex-slaves from the United States.(82) All this means that in terms of percentages, Canadians had a growth rate twice as high as the Yankees. In fact, if we go back just twenty more years, the growth rate becomes explosive, because Canada's population doubled between the French and Indian War and the 1783 Treaty of Paris. So at independence, population was roughly forty times what it had been a century earlier. And since France was no longer sending settlers, the portion of French-speakers in Canada's population had dropped from around 75 percent at the time of the French and Indian War, to less than 30 percent in the 1860s.
At the beginning of this chapter, we explained the doubling of Canada's population between 1763 and 1783--immigration from Britain, and "Tories" who chose to move north, rather than live in an independent United States. Later on Irish refugees from the Potato Famine would exceed the number of immigrants coming from England at the same time. Scottish immigration also increased in the mid-nineteenth century, when tenant farmers were evicted from their land in the Highlands of Scotland to allow large-scale sheep farming. Overall, immigration played a more important role in early Canadian growth than it did in US growth. Part of this was a British reaction to France's colonial policy when it ruled Canada; except for the fur trade, the French government largely neglected their North American settlements. After the British lost their colonies on the Atlantic seaboard, Canada was the most obvious substitute, and there seems to have been an effort to duplicate in late 18th-early 19th century Canada the successful development that had already taken place between Maine and Georgia. Finally, when the original population is small, an influx of new settlers is going to have more of an impact. That is why the "explosive" metaphor used in the previous paragraph is appropriate; in a real explosion, most of the action happens in the first second, and the objects being blown apart lose speed as they travel away from the point of the blast. Likewise, the population growth rate slowed down after it became self-sustaining; in 1867 Canada had between 1/9 and 1/10 the population of the United States, the same ratio that we see between Canadian and US populations today.
One group did not grow at all during this time--the American Indians. Their population had been declining since the white man first arrived, as we noted previously; in the period covered by this chapter, their numbers north of the Rio Grande probably shrank from 800,000 to 700,000. At the beginning of this chapter, more than half of eastern North America was still occupied by Indians, rather than by citizens of the governments that claimed the land, but by the end of the 1830s they had been almost completely cleared out; we won't hear from any eastern tribes in future chapters of this work. In the West, one of the most famous battles between the red man and the white man was called "Custer's Last Stand," but in the next chapter, the real story will be about the Indians' last stand.
This is the End of Chapter 3.
The Anglo-American Adventure
Other History Papers