America: A Narrative History

Tindall, George Brown and David E. Shi. America: A Narrative History. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1999.
Source Type
Secondary
Year
1999
Publication Type
Book
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., vol. 1 (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 698-699.
Body Summary:
Finally, confrontation began to slip into conflict. In May 1856 a proslavery mob entered the free-state twon of Lawrence and destroyed newspaper presses, set fire to the free-state governor's private home, stole property that was not nailed down, and trained five cannon on the Free State Hotel, demolishing it. The "sack of Lawrence" resulted in just one casualty, but the excitement aroused a fanatical Free-Soiler named John Brown, who had a history of instability. A companion described him as one "impressed with the idea that God had raised him up on purpose to break the jaws of the wicked." Two days after the sack of Lawrence, Brown set out with rour sons and three other men toward Pottawatomie Creek, site of a proslavery settlement, where they dragged five men from their houses and hacked them to death in front of their screaming families, ostensibly as revenge for the deaths of free-state men. The Pottawatomie Massacre (May 24-25 1856) set off a guerrilla war in the territory that lasted through the fall. On August 30, Missouri ruffians raided the free-state settlement at Osawatomie. They looted the houses, burned them to the ground, and shot John Brown's son Frederick through the heart. The elder Brown, who barely escaped, looked back at the site being devastated by "Satan's legions," and muttered, "God sees it." He then swore to his surviving sons and followers: "I have only a short time to live - only one death to die, and I will die fighting for this cause." Altogether, by the end of 1856 Kansas lost about 200 killed and $2 million in property destroyed during the territorial civil war.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., vol. 1 (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 767-768.
Body Summary:
Coercive measures against disloyalty were perhaps as much a boost as a hindrance to Democrats, who took up the cause of civil liberty. Early in the war Lincoln assumed the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which entitles people in jail to a speedy hearing. Lincoln also subjected "disloyal" persons to martial law - often on vague suspicion. The Constitution said only that habeas corpus could be suspended in cases of rebellion or invasion, but congressional leaders argued that Congress alone had authority to act, since the provision fell in Article 1, which deals with the powers of Congress. When Congress, by the Habeas Corpus Act of 1863, finally authorized the president to suspend the writ, it required officers to report the names of all arrested persons to the nearest district court, and provided that if the grand jury found no indictment, those arrested could be released upon taking an oath of allegiance.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., vol. 1 (New York:  W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 703-05.
Body Summary:
On March 6, 1857, two days after the inauguration, the Supreme Court rendered a decision in the long-pending case of Dred Scott v. Sandford.

After his master’s death in 1843 Scott apparently had tried to buy his freedom. In 1846, with help from white friends, he brought suit in Missouri courts claiming that residence in Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory had made him free. A jury decided in his favor, but the state supreme court ruled against him.

Each of the nine justices filed a separate opinion, except one who concurred with Chief Justice Robert B. Taney of Maryland. By different lines of reasoning, seven justices ruled that Scot remained a slave. The aging Taney, whose opinion represented the Court, ruled that Scott lacked legal standing because he lacked citizenship. Taney argued that one became a federal citizen either by birth or by naturalization, which ruled out any former slave. He further argued that no state had ever accorded citizenship to blacks – a statement demonstrably in error.

To clarify further the definition of Scott’s status, Taney moved to a second major question. Residency in a free state had not freed Scott since, in line with precedent, the decision of the state court governed. This left the question of residency in a free territory. On this point, Taney argued that the Missouri Compromise had deprived citizens of property in slaves, an action “not warranted by the constitution.”

The upshot was that the Supreme Court had declared an act of Congress unconstitutional for the first time since Marbury v. Madison (1803), and a major act for the first time ever. Congress had repealed the Missouri Compromise in the Kansas-Nebraska Act three years earlier, but the decision now challenged popular sovereignty. If Congress itself could not exclude slavery from a territory, then presumably neither could a territorial government created by act of Congress.

By this decision the Supreme Court had thought to settle a question that Congress had dodged ever since the Wilmot Proviso surfaced. But far from settling it, it had only fanned the flames of dissension.  Little wonder that Republicans protested: the Court had declared their program unconstitutional. It had also reinforced the suspicion that the slavocray was hatching a conspiracy. Were not all but one of the justices who joined Taney southerners?

(Actually, Buchanan already knew the outcome because two other justices had spilled the beans in private letters.) Besides, if Dred Scott were not a citizen and had no standing in court, there was no case before it. The majority ruling was an obiter dictum – a statement not essential to deciding the case and therefore not binding, “entitled to just so much moral weight as would be the judgment of a majority to have congregated in any Washington bar-room.”

Proslavery elements, of course, greeted the Court’s opinion as binding. Now the fire-eaters among them were emboldened to yet another demand. It was not enough to deny Congress the right to interfere with slavery in the territories; Congress had an obligation to protect the property of slaveholders, making a federal slave code the next step.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., vol. 1 (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 690.
Body Summary:
The Democrats, despite a fight over the nomination, has some success in papery over the division within their party. As their nominee for president they turned finally to Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire. The platform pledged the Democrats to "abide by and adhere to the faithful execution of the acts known as the Compromise measures." The candidates and the platform generated a surprising reconciliation of the party's factions...The Whigs were less fortunate. They repudiated the lackluster Fillmore, who had faithfully supported the compromise, and once again tried to exploit martial glory. It took fifty-three ballots, but the convention finally chose Winfield Scott, the hero of Mexico City, a native of Virginia backed mainly by northern Whigs...Scott, an able commander but politically inept, had a gained a reputation for antislvery and nativism, alienating German and Irish ethnic voters. In the end Scott carried only Tennessee, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Pierce overwhelmed him in the electoral college 254 to 42, although the popular vote was close 1.6 million to 1.4 million.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed. (2 vols., New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 1: 715-716.
Body Summary:
Of the four candidates, not one was able to command a national following, and the campaign evolved into a choice between Lincoln and Douglas in the North, Breckenridge and Bell in the South. Once consequence of these separate campaigns was that each section gained a false impression of one another. The South never learned to distinguish Lincoln from the radicals; the North failed to gauge the force of southern intransigence--and in this Lincoln was among the worst. He stubbornly refused to offer the South assurances or to amplify his position, which he said was a matter of public record.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed. (2 vols., New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 1: 711-12.
Body Summary:
Self-righteous and demanding, [John Brown] was driven by a sense of crusading zeal. His penetrating gray eyes, flowing beard, and religious certainty evoked images of a vengeful Abraham and struck fear into supporters and opponents alike. On October 16, 1859, Brown made his supreme gesture. From a Maryland farm he crossed the Potomac with about twenty men, including five blacks, and under cover of darkness occupied the federal arsenal in Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). He planned to arm the many slaves who would flock to his cause, set up a black stronghold in the mountains of western Virginia, and provide a nucleus of support for slave insurrections across the South. What he actually did was to take the arsenal by surprise, seize a few hostages, and hole up in the engine house until he was surrounded by militiamen and townspeople. The next morning Brown sent his son Watson and another supporter out under a white flag, but the enraged crowd shot them both.... That night Lieutenant-Colonel Robert E. Lee, U.S. Cavalry, arrived with his aide, Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart, and a force of marines. The following morning, on October 18, Stuart and his troops broke down the barricaded doors and rushed into the engine house…. The siege was over. Altogether Brown's men killed four people (including one marine) and wounded nine. Of their own force, ten died (including two of Brown's sons), seven were captured, and five escaped.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., Vol. 1 (New York:  W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 708.
Body Summary:
Amid the recriminations over Dred Scott, Kansas, and the depression, the center could not hold. The Lecompton battle put severe strains on the most substantial cord of union that was left, the Democratic party. To many Douglas seemed the best hope, one of the few remaining Democratic leaders with support in both sections. But now Douglas was being whipsawed between the extremes. Kansas-Nebraska had cast him in the role of 'doughface,' a southern sympathizer. His opposition to Lecompton, the fradulent fruit of popular sovereignty, however, had alienated him from Buchanan's southern junta. But for all his flexibility and opportunism, Douglas had convinced himself that popular sovereignty was a point of principle, a bulwark of democracy and local self-government. In 1858 he faced reelection to the Senate against the opposition of Buchanan Democrats and Republicans. The year 1860 would give him a chance for the presidency, but first he had to secure his home base in Illinois.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., vol. 1 (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 708.
Body Summary:
Douglas tried to set some traps of his own. It is standard practice, of course, to put extreme constructions upon an adversary's stand. Dougals intimated that Lincoln belonged to the fanatical sect of abolitionists who planned to carry the battle to the slave states, just as Lincoln intimated the opposite about his opponent. Douglas accepted, without any apparent qualms, the conviction of black inferiority that most whites, North and South, shared at the time, and sought to pin on Lincoln the stigma of advocating racial equality.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., vol. 1 (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 723.
Body Summary:
[Lincoln] stayed in Springfield until mid-February 1861, biding his time. He then boarded a train for a long, roundabout trip, and began to drop some hints to audiences along the way. To the New Jersey Legislature, which responded with prolonged cheering, he said: "The man does not live who is more devoted to peace than I am...But it may be necessary to put the foot down." At the end of the journey, reluctantly yielding to rumors of plots against his life, he passed unnoticed on a night train through Baltimore and slipped into Washington before daybreak on February 23.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., Vol 1 (New York:  W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 585.
Body Summary:
In the early 1840s, the American people were no more stirred by the quarrels of Tyler and Clay over such issues as banking, tariffs, and distribution, important as they were, than students of history would be at a later date. What stirred the blood was the mounting evidence that the “empire of freedom” was hurdling the barriers of the “Great American Desert” and the Rocky Mountains, reaching out toward the Pacific coast. In 1845, an eastern editor gave a name to this bumptious spirit of expansion. “Our manifest destiny,” he wrote, “is too overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiply millions.” At its best this much-trumpeted notion of “Manifest Destiny” offered a moral justification for American expansion, a prescription for what an enlarged United States could and should be. At its worst it was a cluster of flimsy rationalizations for naked greed and Imperial ambition. Whatever the case, hundreds of thousands of people began streaming into the Far West during the 1840s and after. The western frontier across the Mississippi River differed radically from previous western frontiers encountered by settlers from the East. Here was a new environment as well as a new culture. The Great Plains and the Far West were already occupied by Indians and Mexicans, people who had lived in the region for centuries and had established their own distinctive customs and ways of life.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., Vol. 1 (New York:  W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 707-708.
Body Summary:

The third crisis of Buchanan’s first half year in office, a financial crisis, broke in August 1857. It was brought on by a reduction in demand for American grain caused by the end of the Crimean War (1854-1856), a surge in manufacturing that outran the growth of markets, and the continued weakness and confusion of the state banknote system. Failure of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company on August 24, 1857, precipitated the panic, which was followed by a depression from which the country did not emerge until 1859.

Everything in those years seemed to get drawn into the vortex of sectional conflict, and business troubles were no exception. Northern businessmen tended to blame the depression on the Democratic Tariff of 1857, which had set rates on imports at their lowest level since 1816. The agricultural South weathered the crisis better than the North. Cotton prices fell, but slowly, and world markets for cotton quickly recovered. The result was an exalted notion of King Cottons’ importance to the world, an apparent confirmation of the growing argument that the southern system was superior to the free-labor of the North.

Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., Vol. 1 (New York:  W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 693.
Body Summary:
During the 1850s, the only land added to the United States was a barren stretch of some 30,000 square miles south of the Gila River in present New Mexico and Arizona. This Gadsden Purchase of 1853, in which the United States paid Mexico $10 million, was made to acquire land offering a likely route for a Pacific railroad. The idea of building a railroad linking together the new continental domain of the United States, though a great national goal, spawned sectional rivalries in still another quarter and reopened the slavery issue. Among the many transcontinental routes projected, the four most important were the northern route for Milwaukee to the Columbia River, a central route from St. Louis to San Francisco, anther from Memphis to Los Angeles, and a more southerly route from New Orleans to San Diego via the Gadsden Purchase.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., vol. 1 (New York:  W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 688-89.
Body Summary:
'This filthy encactment was made in the nineteenth century, by people who could read and write,' Ralph Waldo Emerson marveled in his journal.  He advised neighbors to break it 'on the earliest occasion.'  The occasion soon arose in many places.  Within a month of the law's enactment, claims were filed in New York, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Detroit, and other cities.  Trouble soon followed.  In Detroit only military force stopped the rescue of an alleged fugitive by an outraged mob in October 1850.  There were relatively few such incidents, however,  In the first six years of the fugitive act, only three fugitives were forcibly rescued from the slave-catchers.  On the other hand, probably fewer than 200 were returned to bondage during the same years.  More then that were rescued by stealth, often through the Underground Railroad.  Still, the Fugitive Slave Act  had the tremendous effect of widening and deepening the anitslavery impulse in the North.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., vol. 1 (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 705-706.
Body Summary:
Just before Buchanan's inauguration the proslavery legislature called for an election of delegates to a constitutional convention. Since no provision was made for a referendum on the constitution, however, the governor vetoed the measure and the legislature overrode his veto. The Kansas governor resigned on the day Buchanan took office, and the new president replaced him with Robert J. Walker. A native Pennsylvanian who had made a political career in Mississippi and a former member of Polk's cabinet, Walker had greater prestige than his predecessors, and like contemporaries such as Houston of Texas, Foote of Mississippi, and Benton of Missouri, put the Union about slavery. In Kansas he scented a chance to advance the cause of both the Union and his party. Under popular sovereignty, fair elections would produce a state that would be both free and Democratic. Walker arrived in 1857, and with Buchanan's approval, pledged to the free-state elements that the new constitution would be submitted to a fair vote. But in spite of his pleas, he arrived too late to persuade free-state men to vote for convention delegates in elections they were sure had been rigged against them. Later, however, Walker did persuade the free-state leaders to vote in the election of a new territorial legislature.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed. (2 vols., New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 1: 726-727.
Body Summary:
In the free states and the Confederate states, Lincoln’s proclamation reinforced the patriotic fervor of the day. In the upper South it brought dismay, and another wave of secession that swept four more states into the Confederacy. Many in those states abhorred both abolitionists and secessionists, but faced with a call for troops to suppress their sister states, decided to abandon the Union. Virginia acted first. Its convention passed an Ordinance of Secession on April 17. The Confederate Congress then chose Richmond as its new capital, and the government moved there in June.

Three other states followed Virginia in little over a month: Arkansas on May 6, Tennessee on May 7, and North Carolina on May 20. All four of the holdout states, especially Tennessee and Virginia, had areas (mainly in the mountains) where both slaves and secessionists were scarce and where Union support ran strong. In Tennessee the mountain counties would supply more volunteers to the Union than to the Confederate cause. Unionists in western Virginia, bolstered by a Federal army from Ohio under General George B. McClellen, contrived a loyal government of Virginia that formed a new state. In 1863 Congress admitted West Virginia to the Union with a constitution that provided for gradual emancipation of the few slaves there. &nbsp
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., Vol. 1 (New York:  W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 573.
Body Summary:
In 1848 two prominent moral reformers and advocates of women's rights, Lucretia Mott, a Philadelphia Quaker, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a graduate of Troy Seminary who refused to be merely "a household drudge,” decided to call a convention to discuss "the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” The hastily organized Seneca Falls convention, the first of its kind, issued on July 19, 1848, a clever paraphrase of Jefferson's Declaration, the Declaration of Sentiments, mainly the work of Mrs. Stanton, who was also the wife of a prominent abolitionist and the mother of seven.

The document proclaimed the self-evident truth that “all men and women are created equal, and the attendant resolutions said that all laws that placed women "in a position inferior to that of men, are contrary to the greet precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority." Such language was too strong for most of the thousand delegates, and only about a third of them signed it. Ruffled male editors lampooned the women activists as being "love-starved spinsters" and "petticoat rebels." Yet the Seneca Falls gathering represented an important first step in the evolving campaign for women’s rights.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., vol. 1 (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 551-552.
Body Summary:
While Thoreau was at Walden Pond, the Mexican War erupted. Believing it an unjust war to advance the cause of slavery, he refused to pay his state poll tax as a gesture of opposition, for which he was put in jail (for only one night; an aunt paid the tax). The incident was so trivial as to be almost comic, but out of it grew the classic essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849), which was later to influence the passive-resistance movements of Mahatma Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King, Jr., in the American South.
Citation:
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, America: A Narrative History, 6th ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004), 605.
Body Summary:
Escapees often made it out on their own – [Fredrick] Douglass borrowed a pass from a free black seaman – but many were aided by the Underground Railroad, which grew into a vast system to conceal runaways and spirit them to freedom, often over the Canadian border. Levi Coffin, a North Carolina Quaker who moved to Cincinnati and did help many fugitives, was the reputed president. Actually, there seems to have been more spontaneity than system about the matter, and blacks contributed more than was credited in the legend. A few intrepid refugees actually ventured back into slave states to organize escapes. Harriet Tubman, the most celebrated, went back nineteen times.
How to Cite This Page: "America: A Narrative History," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/18945.