Saturday, January 17, 2009

USH5: The Nation Grows

Kenneth Davis points out that the time between George Washington's inauguration in 1789 and Abraham Lincoln's inauguration in 1861 was "only seventy-two years"--basically the time between 1937 (the year of the Hindenburg disaster) and now, but in that time the United States went from thirteen small states to a nation that spanned the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. And all that land was stolen from the native people.

It began with the Louisiana Purchase, in 1803, when France sold the US the lands that they claimed to own for fifteen million dollars (which, as Davis points out, comes to about four cents an acre). President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, along with forty others, to explore this new land--and with help from a French-Canadian fur trapper, Toussaint Charbonneau, and his 'wife' Sacagawea (actually a Shoshone woman he purchased from a rival tribe that had taken her captive), they made it all the way to the Pacific Ocean and back (with Sacagawea providing proof of their "friendly intentions" to any Indians that they encountered.)

As the US government began taking the land from the Indians, some of the Indians began fighting back. A Shawnee chief named Tecumseh began organizing an Indian confederation to oppose the expansion of the whites. Unfortunately, his brother, Tenskwatawa (aka 'The Prophet') ordered an attack, in 1811, on US troops stationed near the gathering place of the Indian warriors near the Tippecanoe River, which led to their defeat by General (later President) William Henry Harrison. (Reportedly, when Tecumseh met with Harrison he was told that "Your father requests you to take a chair." Tecumseh responded to the condescending demand by saying, "My father! The sun is my father, and the earth is my mother; I will repose upon her bosom.")

Bizarrely, land-greedy congressmen decided that Tecumseh's uprising was a British plot. That plus the fact that the English were taking Americans from ships and 'impressing' them into the Royal Navy to fight the French, led to the War of 1812, which began with an unsuccessful US attempt to invade Canada. The whole thing was pretty much a stalemate--the Americans losing many of the land battles but winning much of the naval conflicts. The US captured and burned many buildings in what is now Toronto and the British, in retaliation, marched in to Washington, DC, and torched the White House and the Capitol building. The biggest US victory, the Battle of New Orleans, occurred after the war was over (but unfortunately, with the slow communications of the day, neither side knew it).

In 1818, Andrew Jackson (whose battles with the Indians earned him the native nickname of Long Knife) began conducting raids into Florida, harrassing both the Seminole Indians (burning their villages) and the Spanish (seizing their forts). By 1819, the Spanish were sick of it and sold their Florida territory to the US. Jackson then became the territory's governor.

The US was growing, and tensions within it grew as well. The issue of slavery and the political power of the 'Free States' versus the 'Slave States' was one of the divisive issues (more on that in my next post). The political power of these states came to a head with the Missouri Compromise of 1820--a decision that Missouri could be a 'Slave State' but nothing else north of its southern border could. On the other hand, the power of the US government (and the beginning of the American Empire) grew with the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, a speech given by President James Monroe, but largely written by then Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, in which the US declared it wouldn't tolerate European interference with governments in the western hemisphere. It began as an isolationist statement, but eventually became a rationale for our own interference with the governments of the western hemisphere.

As the US kept growing, it kept moving the native people to new locations and taking their land, breaking treaty after treaty. The government decided to name this the Indian 'Removal' bill. One of the worst examples of this was when the Cherokee were forced out of Georgia in 1838 and made to march all the way to Oklahoma. Four thousand of them died along the way; this became known as the Trail of Tears.

Meanwhile, we were invading Mexican territory. Americans had been invited to settle in the Mexican territory of Texas, but when they tried to secede in 1836, Mexican President Santa Anna led his troops into Texas and cornered the Americans in a mission in San Antonio called the Alamo. They held out and the Mexicans slaughtered them. Santa Anna also slew hundreds more in a town called Goliad, but Texans attacked the Mexican army while they were taking a siesta, and screaming "Remember the Alamo" killed or captured hundreds of the Mexicans. One of their captives was Santa Anna. The Texans declared themselves a republic and petitioned to join the US.

In 1846, President James Polk provoked a war with Mexico to solidify our claims to Texas and extend its borders. When the war was over, in 1848, the US had won 500,000 sq miles of territory from the Mexican government, lands that stretched from Texas to California. We now spanned the continent from coast to coast.

Two famous quotes from the time were mentioned in both Davis's and Zinn's books. The first was from journalist John O'Sullivan, who in 1845 wrote that it was "...our manifest destiny to overspread the continent..." Unfortunately, this was adopted by other publications, and 'manifest destiny' practically became an American credo. The other quote was from a newspaper which claimed in 1848, when we paid Mexico $15 million for the lands we drove them out of, "We take nothing by conquest...Thank God."

(I see eerie parallels with the recent Israeli campaign against the Palestinians in Gaza--and with their whole attitude toward Palestine in general. "We want your land; get out or we'll kill you." It worked for us, now it's working for them. It's horrible.)

Quote of the Day: "Indians are not deceitful. The white men speak bad of the Indian and look at him spitefully. But the Indian does not tell lies. Indians do not steal.
"An Indian who is as bad as the white man could not live in our nation... The white men do not scalp the head; but they do worse--they poison the heart..." - Chief Black Hawk

Kenneth Davis, Don't Know Much About History
Wikipedia, various articles (in particular one on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and one on Sacagawea.)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States


SoapBoxTech said...

A wee little note: just as the British enlisted American colonials to fight against the French, Canadians were enlisted to fight in the War of 1812 and apparently it was Canadian soldiers who torched the first White House.

So watch out eh?


MoonRaven said...

Considering we had just gone and burned one of your cities--I imagine the Canadians were feeling rather justified...

Actually, one of my favorite stories from the war of 1812 was that the British had stocked New Brunswick with gunpowder in case of an invasion (which folks in the province weren't expecting) but the Americans, fighting elsewhere, had little to spare for Maine--so the town of St Stephen, NB, gave some gunpowder to the town of Calais, ME, for their 'Fourth of July' celebration!

I realize, as I'm writing this how little I know of Canadian history. I will have to explore that sometime...