The American Promise: A History of the United States

Roark, James L. The American Promise: A History of the United States. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002.
Source Type
Secondary
Year
2002
Publication Type
Book
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 502.
Body Summary:
A superb administrator and organizer, McClellan was brought to Washington as a commander of the nearly named Army of the Potomac.  In the months following his appointment, McClellan energetically whipped his army of dispirited veterans and fresh recruits into shaped.  The troops cheered their boyish general when he rode among them, in part no doubt because of his reluctance to send them into battle.  Lincoln said McClellan had a bad case of “the slows,” and indeed McClellan, for all his energy, lacked decisiveness.  Lincoln wanted a general who could advance, take risks, and fight, but McClellan went into winter quarters without budging from the Potomac.  “If General McClellan does not want to use the army I would like to borrow it,” Lincoln declared in frustration.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 473.
Body Summary:
Fighting broke out on the morning of May 21, 1856, when a mob of several hundred proslavery men entered the town of Lawrence, the center of free-state settlement.  Only one man died - a proslavery raider who was killed when a burning wall collapsed - but the 'Sack of Lawrence,' as free-soil forces called it, inflamed northern opinion.  In Kansas, news of Lawrence provoked one free-soil settler, John Brown, to 'fight fire with fire.'  Announcing that 'it was better that a score of bad men should die than that one man who came here to make Kansas a Free State should be driven out,' he led the posse that massacred five allegedly proslavery settlers along the Pottawatomie Creek.  After that, guerilla war engulfed the territory.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 457.
Body Summary:
In 1793, a federal law gave muscle to the provision by authorizing slave owners to enter other states to recapture their slave property. Proclaiming the 173 law a license to kidnap free blacks, northern states in the 1830s began passing "personal liberty laws" that provided fugitives with some protection.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 476.
Body Summary:
The Republican rebuttal to Taney’s decision relied heavily on the brilliant dissenting opinion of Justice Benjamin R. Curtis. Scott was a citizen of the United States, Curtis argued. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, free black men could vote in five states and participated in the ratification process. Scott was free: Because slavery was prohibited in Wisconsin, the “involuntary servitude of a slave, coming into the Territory with his master, should cease to exist.” And the Missouri Compromise was constitutional. The Founders meant exactly what they said: Congress had the power to make “all needful rules and regulations” for the territories, including barring slavery.

But what southern Democrats cheered, northern Democrats found profoundly disturbing. They feared that the Dred Scott decision annihilated not just the Wilmot Proviso but popular sovereignty as well. If Congress did not have the authority to exclude slavery, how could Congress’s creation, a territorial government, assume that right?

By draining the last drop of ambiguity out of popular sovereignty, the Dred Scott decision jeopardized the ability of the Democratic Party to hold its northern and southern wings together.

Ironically, the Dred Scott decision strengthened the young Republican Party by giving credence to its claim that a hostile Slave Power conspired against northern liberties.
   
As for Dred Scott, although the Court rejected his suit, he did in the end gain his freedom. In May 1857, Taylor Blow, the son of his first owner, purchased and freed Dred Scott and his family. On September 17, 1858, Dred Scott died in obscurity.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 474.
Body Summary:
Dred Scott was a slave born in Virginia at the turn of the century and in 1818 had moved with his master, Peter Blow, to a cotton plantation in Alabama. Twelve years later, the Blow family and their six slaves moved to St. Louis. In 1833, Scott was sold to Dr. John Emerson, an army doctor who took Scott with him as his personal servant to Fort Armstrong, Illinois. Two years later, Scott accompanied Emerson when he was transferred to Fort Snelling on the Minnesota River in Wisconsin Territory. Other moves followed, but in a few years Emerson returned Scott to St. Louis. On April 6, 1846, Dred Scott sued to prove that he, his wife Harriet, and their two daughters, Eliza and Lizzie, were legally entitled to their freedom. Dred Scott’s claim was based on his travels and residences. He argued that living in Illinois, a free state, and in Wisconsin Territory, a free territory according to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, had made him and his family free; and once free, they remained free, even after returning to Missouri, a slave state.

Eleven years after the Scotts first sued for freedom, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case. The justices could have simply settled the immediate issue of Scott’s status as a free man or slave, but they saw the case as an opportunity to settle once and for all the vexing question of slavery in the territories. On the morning of March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney read the majority decision of the Court. Taney hated Republicans and detested racial equality, and the Court’s decision reflected those prejudices. First, the Court ruled that Dred Scott could not legally claim violation of his constitutional rights because he was not a citizen of the United States. At the time of the Constitution, Taney said, blacks “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order…so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Second, the laws of Dred Scott’s home state, Missouri, determined his status, and thus his travels in free areas did not make him free. Third, Congress’s power to make “all needful rules and regulations” for the territories did not include the right to prohibit slavery. The Court then explicitly declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, even though it had already been voided by the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Republicans exploded in outrage. Taney’s extreme proslavery decision ranged far beyond a determination of Dred Scott’s freedom. By declaring unconstitutional the Republican program of federal exclusion of slavery in the territories, the Court had cut the ground from beneath the party.
Citation:
James L. Roark et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed. (2 vols., Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 1: 483.
Body Summary:
An unprecedented number of voters cast ballots on November 6, 1860. Approximately 82 percent of eligible northern men and 70 percent of eligible southern men went to the polls. The Republican platform succeeded in attracting a broad coalition of northern interests, and Lincoln swept all of the eighteen free states except New Jersey, which split its votes between him and Douglas. While Lincoln received only 39 percent of the popular vote, he won easily in the electoral balloting, gaining 180 votes, 28 more than he needed for victory. Lincoln did not win because his opposition was splintered.  Even if the votes of his three opponents were combined, Lincoln would still have won. Ominously, however, Breckinridge, running on a southern-rights platform, won the entire Lower South plus Delaware, Maryland, and North Carolina. Two fully sectionalized parties swept their regions, but the northern one had won the presidency. 
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 449-450.
Body Summary:
On the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown took his war against slavery into the South. With only twenty-one men, including five African Americans, he crossed the Potomac River and invaded Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Sixty miles from Washington D.C., the small town had little to recommend it except its federal arsenal, which bristled with rifles. Brown’s band quickly seized the armory and rifle works, but the invaders were immediately surrounded, first by local militia and then by Colonel Robert E. Lee, who commanded the U.S. troops in the area. When Brown refused to surrender, federal soldiers charged with bayonets. It was all over in less than thirty-six hours. In all, seventeen men, two of whom were slaves, lost their lives. Although a few of Brown’s raiders escaped, federal forces killed ten (including two of his sons) and captured seven, among them Brown himself, who suffered a painful but not life-threatening sword wound.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 460-462.
Body Summary:
Responses to Uncle Tom's Cabin depended on geography. In the North, common people and literary giants alike shed tears and sang its praises. The poet John Greenleaf Whitier sent "ten thousand thanks for thy immortal book," and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow judged it "one of the greatest triumphs recorded in literary history." What Northerners accepted as truth, Southerners denounced as slander. Virginian George F. Holmes proclaimed Stowe a member of the "Woman's Rights" and "Higher Law" schools and dismissed the novel as a work of "intense fanaticism," Unfortunately, he said, this "maze of interpretation" had filled those who knew nothing about slavery "with hatred for that institution and those who uphold it."...As Legree's [a slave-owning character] northern origins suggest, the novel did not indict just the South. Stowe rebuked the entire nation for tolerating slavery. Although it is impossible to measure precisely the impact of a novel on public opinion, Uncle Tom's Cabin clearly helped to crystallize northern sentiment against slavery and to confirm white Southerner's suspicion that they no longer had any sympathy in the free states...  A decade after its publication, when Stowe visited Abraham Lincoln at the White House, he reportedly said, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war."
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 466-467.
Body Summary:
The tidal wave of immigrants that broke over American in the decade from 1845 to 1855 produced a nasty backlash among Protestant Americans, who believed they were about to drown in a sea of Roman Catholics from Ireland and Germany…The new arrivals encountered economic prejudice, ethnic hostility, and religious antagonism. Because some of them displayed a taste for whiskey and beer, they also drew the wrath of the temperance movement. When the immigrants entered American politics, they largely became Democrats because they perceived that party as more tolerant of newcomers than were the Whigs.

But even so, they met sharp political opposition. In the early 1850s, nativists (individuals who were anti-immigrant) began to organize, first into secret fraternal societies such as the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, and then into a political party.

Recruits swore never to vote for either foreign-born or Roman Catholic candidates and not to reveal any information about the organization. When questioned, they said: “I know nothing.” Officially, they were the American Party, but most Americans called them Know-Nothings.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 479.
Body Summary:
Douglas's response to another crisis in 1857, however, helped shore up his standing with his constituents.  During the previous winter, proslavery forces in Kansas met in the town of Lecompton, drafted a proslavery constitution, and applied for statehood.  Everyone knew that free-soilers outnumbered proslavery settlers by at least two to one but President Buchanan blessed the Lecompton constitution and instructed Congress to admit Kansas at the sixteenth slave state.  Republicans denounced the "Lecompton swindle" Douglas broke with the Democratic administration and came out against the proslavery constitution, not because it accepted slavery but because it violated the democratic requirement of popular sovereignty.  In March 1858, despite Douglas's vigorous opposition, the Senate passed the Kansas statehood bill, but the northern majority in the House killed it. (When Kansans reconsidered the Lecompton constitution in an honest reelection, they rejected it six to one; coming out against the constitution, Douglas declared his independence from the South, and he hoped, made himself acceptable at home.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 478.
Body Summary:
Lincoln badgered Douglas with the question of whether he favored the spread of slavery. He tried to force Douglas into the damaging admission that the Supreme Court had repudiated his territorial solution, popular sovereignty. In the debate at Freeport, Illinois, Douglas admitted that settlers could not now pass legislation barring slavery, but he argued that they could ban slavery just as effectively by not passing protective laws. Without 'appropriate police regulations and local legislation,' such as those found in slave states, he explained, slavery could not live a day and a hour.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 478.
Body Summary:
A relative and unknown and a decided underdog in the Illinois election, Lincoln challenged the incumbent Douglas to debate him face to face. Douglas agreed, and the two met in seven communities for what became a legendary series of debates. To the thousands who stood straining to see and hear, they must have seemed an odd pair. Douglas was five feet four inches tall, broad, and stocky; Lincoln was six feet four inches tall, angular and lean. Douglas was in perpetual motion, darting across the platform, shouting, and jabbing in the air. Lincoln stood still and spoke deliberately. Douglas wore the latest fashion and dazzled audiences with his flashy vests. Lincoln wore good suits but managed to look rumpled anyway. But their differences in physical appearance and style were of least importance. They showed the citizens of Illinois (and much of the nation because of the widespread press coverage) the difference between the anti-Lecompton Democrat and a true Republican. They debated, often brilliantly, the central issue before the country: slavery and freedom.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 478.
Body Summary:
As Douglas predicted, the election was hardfought. It was also closely contested. In the nineteenth century, citizens voted for state legislators, who in turn selected the U.S. senator. Since Democrats won a slight majority in the legislature, the new legislature chose to return Douglas to the Senate. But the debates thrust Lincoln, the prairie Republican, into the national spotlight.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 382-384.
Body Summary:
The sense of uniqueness and mission was as old as the Puritans, but by the 1840s the conviction of superiority had been bolstered by the young nation’s amazing success. What right had Americans, they asked, to keep the blessings of liberty, democracy, and prosperity to themselves? The west needed the civilizing power of the hammer and plow, the ballot box and pulpit, that had transformed the East.

In the summer of 1845, New York journalist John L. O’Sullivan coined the term manifest density as the latest justification for white settlers to take the land they coveted. O’Sullivan was an armchair expansionist, but he took second place to no one in his passions for conquest of the West. O’Sullivan called on Americans to resist any foreign power – British, French, or Mexican – that attempted to thwart “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions…[and] for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federative self-government entrusted to us.” Almost overnight, the magic phrase manifest destiny swept the nation and proved an ideological shied for conquering the West.

As important as national pride and racial arrogance were to manifest density, economic gain made up its core. Land hunger drew hundreds of thousands of average Americans westward. Some politicians, moreover, had become convinced that national prosperity depended on capturing the rich trade of the Far East. To trade with Asia, the United States needed the Pacific ports that stretched from San Francisco to Puget Sound.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 460.
Body Summary:
In 1987 writer Toni Morrison published her award-winning Beloved. The novel had historical origins. In 1855, a slave family - Robert Garner, his twenty-two year old wife Margaret, their four children and his parents fled Kentucky. Archibald Gaines, Margaret's owner, tracked them to a cabin in Ohio. Thinking that all was lost and that her children would be returned to slavery, Margaret seized a butcher knife and cut the throat of her two-year-old daughter. She was turning on her other children when slave catchers burst in and captured her. Garner's child murder electrified the nation. Abolitionists claimed that the act revealed the horror of slavery and the tragic heroism of slave mothers. Defenders of slavery argued that the deed proved that slaves were savages.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 389.
Body Summary:
In 1850, only three years after its founding, Desert became annexed to the United States as Utah Territory.  But what focused the Nation’s attention on the Latter-Day Saints was the announcement by Brigham Young in 1852 that many Mormons practiced polygamy.  Although only one Mormon man in five had more than one wife (Young had twenty-three), Young’s public statement caused an outcry that forced the government to establish its authority in Utah.  In 1857, twenty-five hundred U.S. troops invaded Salt Lake City in what was known as the Mormon War.  The bloodless occupation illustrates that most Americans viewed the Mormons as a threat to American morality, law, and institutions.  The invasion did not dislodge the Mormon church from its central place in Utah, however, and for years to come most Americans perceived the Mormon settlement as a strange, and suitably isolated, place.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 477-479.
Body Summary:
Not only did Douglas have to content with a formidable foe, but he also carried the weight of a burden not of his own making. The previous year, the nation’s economy experienced a sharp downturn. Prices plummeted, thousands of businesses failed, and unemployment rose. The causes of the panic of 1857 lay in the international economy, but Americans reflexively interpreted the panic in sectional terms. Northern businesses and industries suffered most, and Northerners blamed the southern-dominated Congress, which had just months before reduced tariff duties to their lowest levels in the nineteenth century. Given this invitation, Northerners believed, foreign competition ravaged the northern economy. Southerners, in contrast, had largely escaped hardship because cotton prices remained high. Although Illinois suffered less than the Northeast, Douglas had to go before the voters in 1858 as a member of the freshly accused, southern-dominated Democratic party.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 457.
Body Summary:
Others actively resisted [the Fugitive Slave Act]. Theodore Parker, the clergyman and abolitionist, denounced the law as "a hateful statute of kidnappers" and headed a Boston vigilance committee that openly violated it. In February 1851, an angry crowd in Boston overpowered federal marshals and snatched away a runaway named Shadrach from a courtroom, put him on the Underground Railroad, and whisked him away off to Montréal Canada.
Citation:
James L. Roark et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed. (2 vols., Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 1: 484-485.
Body Summary:
The debate about what to do was briefest in South Carolina. It seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. By February 1861, the six other Deep South states marched in South Carolina’s footsteps. Only South Carolinians voted overwhelmingly from secession, however; elsewhere, the vote was close. In general, the nonslaveholding inhabitants of the pine barrens and mountain counties displayed the greatest attachment to the Union. Slaveholders spearheaded secession. On February 4, representatives from South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas met in Montgomery, Alabama, where three days later they celebrated the birth of the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis became president and Alexander Stephens, who had spoken so eloquently about the dangers of revolution, became vice president.
 
Lincoln’s election had split the Union.  Now secession split the South. Seven slave states seceded during the winter, but eight did not. Citizens of the Upper South debated just as furiously whether the South could defend itself better inside or outside the Union, but they came down opposite the Lower South, at least for the moment. Whites in the Upper South had fewer fears that Republican ascendancy meant economic catastrophe, racial war, and social chaos. Lincoln would need to do more than just be elected to provoke them into secession.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 380.
Body Summary:
In 1848, about one hundred “living energetic beings,” led by reformers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, gathered at Seneca Falls, New York, for the first women’s rights convention in the United States. The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments proclaimed that “the history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.”

In the style of the Declaration of Independence, the Seneca Falls Declaration listed the ways women had been discriminated against. Through the tyranny of male supremacy, men “endeavored in every way that [they] could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lesson her self-respect, an to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.” The Seneca Falls Declaration insisted that women “have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States,” particularly the “inalienable right to the elective franchise.”

Nearly two dozen other women’s rights conventions assembled before 1860, repeatedly calling for suffrage. But they had difficulty receiving a respectful hearing, much less obtaining legislative action. No state came close to permitting women to vote. Politicians and editorialists hooted at the idea. Everyone knew, they sneered, that a woman’s place was in the home, rearing her children and civilizing her man. Nonetheless, the Seneca Falls Declaration served as a path – breaking manifesto of dissent against male supremacy and of support for woman suffrage, which would become the focus of the women’s rights movement during the next seventy years.
Citation:
James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 378.
Body Summary:
A group of New England writers that came to be known as transcendentalists believed that individuals should not conform to the materialistic world or to some abstract notion of religion. Instead, people should look within themselves for truth and guidance. The leading transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson – an essayist, poet, and lecturer – proclaimed that most Americans failed to lift their eyes from the mundane task of making a living. “We hear…too much of the results of machinery, commerce, and the useful arts," Emerson wrote. The power of the solitary individual was nearly limitless. Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and other transcendentalists agreed with Emerson that “if the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him.” In many ways, transcendentalism represented less an alternative to the values of mainstream society than an exaggerated form of the rampant individualism.
Citation:
James L. Roark et al., The American Promise: A History of the United States, vol. 1, 2nd edition (Boston: Bedford / St. Martin's, 2002).
Body Summary:
Outside the public spotlight, free African Americans in the North and West contributed to the antislavery cause by quietly aiding fugitive slaves. Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery in Maryland in 1849 and repeatedly risked her freedom and her life to return to the South and escort slaves to freedom. Few matched Tubman's heroic courage, but when the opportunity arose, free blacks in the North provided fugitive slaves with food, a safe place to rest, and a helping hand. This ‘underground railroad' ran mainly through black neighborhoods, black churches, and black homes, an outgrowth of the antislavery sentiment and opposition to white supremacy that unified virtually all African Americans in the North. While a few fortunate southern slaves rode the Underground Railroad to freedom in the North, millions of other Americans uprooted their families and headed west.
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