JAMES OTIS AND THOMAS JEFFERSON ON SLAVERY
Colonial era Americans were much more troubled by slavery than would be most of their 19th Century descendants. James Otis, a Boston attorney and later patriot leader in 1761 wrote an anti-British pamphlet which condemned slavery and warned his fellow colonists against denying liberty to anyone. Fifteen years later Thomas Jefferson, himself a slaveowner torn over the issue of slavery in a political revolution dedicated to liberty, wrote a paragraph into one of the early drafts of the Declaration of Independence denouncing King George III for promoting slavery. The paragraph is reprinted below:
Otis: The Colonist are by the law of nature free born, as indeed all men are, white or black. No better reasons can be given, for enslaving those of any colour, than such as baron Montesquieu has humorously given, as the foundation of that cruel slavery exercised over the poor Ethiopians; which threatens one day to reduce both Europe and America to the ignorance and barbarity of the darkest ages.
Does it follow that it is right to enslave a man because he is black? Will short curled hair, like wool, instead of Christian hair, as it is called by those whose hearts are as hard as the millstone, help the argument? Can any logical inference in favor of slavery, be drawn from a flat nose, a long or short face? Nothing better can be said in favour of a trade, that is the most shocking violation of the law of nature, has a direct tendency to diminish the idea of the inestimable value of liberty, and makes every dealer in it a tyrant, from the director of an Africa company to the petty chapman in needles and pins on the unhappy coast. It is a clear truth, that those who every day barter away other men’s liberty, will soon care little for their own.
Jefferson: He [King George] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transport thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market were MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce; and that this assemblage of horror might want no face of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which HE deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom He also obtruded them; plus paying off former crimes committed against the liberty of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
Sources: James Otis, The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved (London, 1776), pp. 43-44; Lerone Bennett, Ebony Pictorial History of Black America, Vol. I, (Nashville, 1971), p. 71.
YELLOW FEVER IN PHILADELPHIA
In the following account Philadelphia resident James Hardie describes the yellow fever epidemic that struck the city in 1794.
This disorder made its first appearance toward the latter end of July, in a lodging house in North Water Street, and for a few weeks seemed entirely confined to that vicinity. Hence it was generally supposed to have been imported and not generated in the city. This was the opinion of Doctors Currie, Cathrall and many others. It was however combated by Dr. Benjamin Rush, who asserts that the contagion was generated from the stench of a cargo of damaged coffee...
But from whatever fountain we trace this poisoned stream, it has destroyed the lives of many thousands and many of those of the most distinguished worth... During the month of August the funerals amounted to upwards of three hundred. The disease had then reached the central streets of the city and began to spread on all sides with the greatest rapidity. In September its malignance increased amazingly. Fear pervaded the stoutest heart, flight became general, and terror was depicted on every countenance. In this month 1,400 more were added to the list of mortality. The contagion was still progressive and towards the end of the month 90 & 100 died daily. Until the middle of October the mighty destroyer went on with increasing havoc. From the 1st to the 17th upwards of 1,400 fell victims to the tremendous malady. From the 17th to the 30th the mortality gradually decreased. In the whole month, however, the dead amounted to upwards of 2,000 a dreadful number, if we consider that at this time near one half of the inhabitants had fled. Before the disorder became so terrible, the appearance of Philadelphia must to a stranger have seemed very extraordinary. The garlic, which chewed as a preventative[,] could be smelled at several yards distance, whilst other[s] hoped to avoid infection by a recourse to smelling bottles, handkerchiefs dipped in vinegar, camphor bags, &c....
During this melancholy period the city lost ten of her most valuable physicians, and most of the others were sick at different times. The number of deaths in all amounted to 4041.
Source: James Hardie, The Philadelphia Directory and Register (Philadelphia, 1794.) reprinted in William Bruce Wheeler and Susan D. Becker, eds. Discovering the American Past: A Look as the Evidence, vol. 1 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), pp. 111-112.
DEATH OF A FOUNDING FATHER
The vignette below describes the death of former President George Washington in December, 1799.
"On, Thursday. Decr. 12th,  the General [George Washington] rode out to his farms... Soon after he went out, the weather became very bad... A heavy fall of snow took place on Friday, which prevented the General from riding out as usual. He had taken cold (undoubtedly from being so much exposed the day before) and complained of having a sore throat.
About two or three o'clk Saturday Morning he awoke Mrs. Washington & told her he was very unwell, and had [fever]. She observed that he could scarcely speak... As soon as the day appeared...he desired that Mr Rawlins, one of the overseers who was used to bleeding the people, might be sent for to bleed him before the doctors could arrive... I found him breathing with difficulty and hardly able to utter a word intelligibly. A mixture of Molasses, Vinegar & butter was prepared, to try its effect in the throat; but he could not swallow a drop. Mr. Rawlins came in soon after sunrise and prepared to bleed him. The General, observing that Rawlins appeared to be agitated, said, as well as he could speak, 'don't be afraid,' and after the incision was made, he observed 'the orifice is not large enough.
Mrs. W being...uneasy lest too much blood should be taken, it was stop'd after about half a pint was taken from him. Finding that no relief was obtain'd, I proposed bathing the throat externally with Salvalaltita... A piece of flannel was then put round his neck. His feet were also soaked in warm water. This, however, gave no relief."
In the meantime, several doctors arrived. They put a blister of cantharides on the throat &,took more blood...and had some Vinegar & hot water put into a Teapot, for the General to draw in steam from the nozel. They also gave him sage tea and Vinegar to be mixed for a Gargle, but when the, general 'held back his head to let it run down [his throat], it put him into great distress and almost produced suffocation. In the afternoon, he was bled again, and the blood ran slowly...and did not produce any symptoms of fainting. They also administered calomil & tarter but without any effect.
Around 6 p.m., the general told his physicians, "I feel myself going... let me go off quietly; I cannot last long." Two hours later, the doctors applied blisters to his legs, but went out without a ray of hope. About 10, with great difficulty, Washington said, "I am just going. Have me decently buried, and do not let my body be put into the Vault in less than two days after I am dead." I bowed assent. A little while later, he expired without a struggle or a Sigh!
Source: Tobias Lear's journal entry on the death of George Washington at Mount Vernon, December 15, 1799 reprinted in Pauline Maier, Inventing America: A History of the United States, vol. 1 (New York, 2003), p. 278.
CHAPTER TWO: DEMOCRACY EXPANDED, DEMOCRACY TESTED
Terms for Week 2
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Female Moral Reform Society
Lowell, Massachusetts, 1823
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Sarah and Angelina Grimke
Women's Rights Convention
Rev. Charles Finney
The Spoils System
THE MONROE DOCTRINE
The Monroe Doctrine, proposed in the President's annual message to Congress on December 2, 1823, was the first major assertion of American foreign policy. Part of the document is presented below:
In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense. With the movements in this hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected, and by causes which must be obvious to all enlightened and impartial observers. The political system of the allied powers is essentially different in this respect from that of America... We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.
With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.
Source: President James Monroe's Message to Congress, December 2, 1823.
THE EXTENSION OF VOTING RIGHTS
The passages below reflect the transformation of the American political system as a consequence of the expansion of voting rights. In the first vignette James Kent, a conservative delegate to the 1821 New York state constitutional convention which extended voting rights to all white males, argues in vain for preserving property requirements. The chart shows the dramatic increase in the number and percentages of Americans voting in presidential elections between 1824 and 1844.
By the report before us, we propose to annihilate, at one stroke, all those property distinctions and to bow before the idol of universal suffrage. That extreme democratic principle, when applied to the legislative and executive departments of the government, has been regarded with terror, by the wise men of every age, because in every European republic, ancient and modern, in which it has been tried, it has terminated disastrously, and been productive of corruption, injustice, violence, and tyranny...
The apprehended danger from the experiment of universal suffrage applied to the whole legislative department, is no dream of the imagination. It is too mighty an excitement for the moral constitution of men to endure. The tendency of universal suffrage is to jeopardize the rights of property and the principles of liberty. There is a constant tendency...in the poor to covet a share in the plunder of the rich; in the debtor to relax or avoid the obligation of contracts; in the majority to tyrannize over the minority, and trample down their rights; in the indolent and profligate to cast the whole burdens of society upon the industrious and the virtuous; and there is a tendency in ambitious and wicked men to inflame those combustible materials.
PRESIDENTIAL VOTING, 1824 1844
VOTERS WHO DEMOCRATIC WHIG
TOTAL VOTERS CAST BALLOTS VOTE VOTE
1824 356,038 27 * *
1828 1,155,350 58 56.0 44.0
1832 1,250,799 55 56.9 43.5
1836 1,505,278 58 50.9 49.1
1840 2,402,405 80 46.9 53.1
1844 2,700,861 79 50.7 49.3
*There were no political parties in 1824. Two groups, led respectively by Andrew Jackson and by John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay emerged shortly after. The Jackson partisans become the Democrats. The anti Jackson factions became the Whig party in 1834.
Source: Richard Current, American History: A Survey, (New York: Knopf, 1961), p. 256; Stephan Thernstrom, A History of the American People, Vol. I, (New York, 1989), p. 327.
THE LOG CABIN CANDIDATE
The 1840 presidential contest between General William Henry Harrison, the Whig candidate, and President Martin Van Buren, the Democratic standard bearer, heralded a new era in American politics with emphasis on symbols rather than substance, political slogans, image manipulation, and "negative campaign" ads. The following vignette describes the campaign.
The Whigs cloaked their champion in familiar heroic garb as an Indian fighter and victorious general in the War of 1812... But almost immediately they grafted a new and very different kind of symbol onto the campaign, the Log Cabin. On December 11, 1839, a newspaper correspondent printed his own facetious answer to a...question about how to "get rid of Harrison." The reporter (himself a Democrat) printed this answer, "Give him a barrel of hard cider, and settle a pension of two thousand a year on him, and....he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin."
This was the opening the Whigs had been waiting for. The Democrats had won elections by presenting themselves as the party of...the common man, while condemning the Whigs as aristocrats and friends of wealth and privilege. Now the Whigs could turn the tables. In early January 1840, the New York Daily Whig replied that only "pampered office-holders" who "sneer at the idea of making a poor man president" would consider "log cabin candidate" a term with which to "reproach" General Harrison. Within a week, other Whig papers joined in. The editor of the Whig paper in Galena, Illinois, told his readers that "Gen. Harrison is sneered at by the Eastern office-holders' pimps, as the 'Log cabin' candidate." But those who live in log cabins "have a way of taking care of themselves when insulted, which has sometimes surprised folks."
On January 20, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, rally took the next step in the transformation of the Whig campaign. The Whig managers openly presented Harrison to the rally as "The Log-Cabin Candidate." They prepared a huge transparency of what was purportedly [Harrison's] log cabin (his original "cabin" had long since been expanded into an impressive sixteen room house) and placed it next to a barrel of cider and a woodpile. Borrowing from Davy Crockett, [the Whig Congressman from Tennessee] they pinned a coonskin cap on the wall.
Recasting Harrison as a homespun farmer...also meant recasting Van Buren as the...opposite. The Whigs ridiculed the president as a foppish, effeminate dandy, given to extravagant, aristocratic tastes. Davy Crockett portrayed Van Buren as so "laced up in corsets, such as women wear... [that] it would be difficult to say from his personal appearance whether he was a man or woman, but for his large red and gray whiskers." Pennsylvania Congressman Charles Ogle described the Van Buren White House "as splendid as that of the Caesars, and as richly adorned as the proudest Asiatic mansion." "The landscaping...was designed to resemble an Amazon's bosom, with a miniature knoll on its apex, to denote the nipple." Ogle ridiculed the four mirrors Van Buren purchased for the White House as a cost of $2,400. "What would frugal and honest Hoosiers think of a democratic peacock, in full court costume, strutting by the hour before golden-framed mirrors, nine feet high and four feet wide?
Source: R. Jackson Wilson, The Pursuit of Liberty, (Belmont, California, 1990), pp. 342-345.
MANIFEST DESTINY: TWO VIEWS
During the 1830s and 1840s, a period of rapid territorial expansion, American nationalists spoke of the nation's divinely inspired mission to control most of the North American continent. Not surprisingly many Americans such as those writing in the Democratic Review, July 1845, embraced the concept with religious zeal. William Ellery Channing, in an 1837 letter to Henry Clay, however expressed the doubts of many Americans about the inevitability of American expansion.
Democratic Review: Texas has been absorbed into the Union in the inevitable fulfillment of the general law which is rolling our population westward... It was disintegrated from Mexico in the natural course of events, by a process perfectly legitimate on its own part, blameless on our... [Its] incorporation into the Union was not only inevitable, but the most natural, right and proper thing in the world...
California will, probably, next fall away from... Mexico... Imbecile and distracted, Mexico never can exert any real governmental authority over such a country. The Anglo Saxon foot is already on its borders. Already the advance guard of the irresistible army of Anglo Saxon emigration has begun to pour down upon it, armed with the plough and the rifle and marking its trail with schools and colleges, courts and representative halls, mills and meeting houses. A population will soon be in actual occupation of California, over which it will be idle for Mexico to dream of dominion... All this without agency of our government, without responsibility of our people in the natural flow of events, the spontaneous working of principles, and the adaptation of the tendencies and wants of the human race to the elemental circumstances in the midst of which they find themselves placed.
Channing: Did this country know itself, or were it disposed to profit by self knowledge, it would feel the necessity of laying an immediate curb on its passion for extended territory... We are a restless people, prone to encroachment, impatient of the ordinary laws of progress... We boast of our rapid growth, forgetting that, throughout nature, noble growths are slow...
It is full time that we should lay on ourselves serious, resolute restraint. Possessed of a domain, vast enough for the growth of ages, it is time for us to stop in the career of acquisition and conquest. Already endangered by our greatness, we cannot advance without imminent peril to our institutions, union, prosperity, virtue, and peace...
It is sometimes said, that nations are swayed by laws, as unfailing as those which govern matter; that they have their destinies; that their character and position carry them forward irresistibly to their goal;... that...the Indians have melted before the white man, and the mixed, disgraced race of Mexico must melt before the Anglo Saxon. Away with this vile sophistry! There is no necessity to crime. There is no fate to justify rapacious nations, any more than to justify gamblers and robbers, in plunder. We boast of the progress of society, and this progress consists in the substitution of reason and moral principle for the sway of brute force... We talk of accomplishing our destiny. So did the late conqueror of Europe [Napoleon]; and destiny consigned him to a lonely rock in the ocean, the prey of an ambition which destroyed no peace but his own.
Source: John M. Blum, The National Experience, (New York, 1985), p. 255.
THE INDIAN REMOVAL ACT
The passage below is from the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which authorized President Andrew Jackson to move Indians residing east of the Mississippi to lands in the West. The Indian Removal Act set the stage for the Trail of Tears.
An Act to provide for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled. That it shall and may be lawful for the President of the United States to cause so much of any territory belonging to the United States, west of the river Mississippi, not included in any state or organized territory, and to which the Indian title has been extinguished, as he may judge necessary, to be divided unto a suitable number of districts, for the reception of such tribes or nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside, and remover there; and to cause each of said districts to be so described by natural or artificial marks, as to be easily distinguished for every other...
And be it further enacted, That in the making of any such exchange or exchanges, it shall and may be lawful for the President solemnly to assure the tribe or nation with which the exchange is made, that the United States will forever secure and guaranty to them, and their heirs or successors, the country so exchanged with them; and if they prefer it, that the United States will cause a patent or grant to be made and executed to them for the same: Provided always, That such lands shall revert to the United States, if the Indians become extinct, or abandon the same.
And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the President to cause such tribe or nation to be protected, at their new resident, against all interruption or disturbance from any other tribe or nation of Indians, or from any other person or persons whatever...
Source: Theda Perdue and Michael D. Green, eds., The Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents (Boston, 1995), pp. 116-17.
INDIAN REMOVAL: AN INDIAN VIEW
In the brief passage below Speckled Snake, a Cherokee, describes his response to the proposal to remove his people to Indian Territory.
Brothers! We have heard the talk of our great father; it is very kind. He says he loves his red children.
Brothers! When the white man first came to these shores, the Muscogees gave him land, and kindled him a fire to make him comfortable; and when the pale faces of the south made war on him, their young men drew the tomahawk, and protected his head from the scalping knife. But when the white man had warmed himself before the Indian's fire, and filled himself with the Indian's hominy, he became very large; he stopped not for the mountain tops, and his feet covered the plains and the valleys. His hands grasped the eastern and the western sea. Then he became our great father. He loved his red children; but said, "You must move a little farther, lest I should, by accident, tread on you." With one foot he pushed the red man over the Oconee, and with the other he trampled down the graves of his fathers.
But our great father still loved his red children, and he soon made them another talk. He said much; but it all meant nothing, but "move a little farther; you are too near me." I have heard a great many talks from our great father, and they all begun and ended the same.
Brothers! When he made us a talk on a former occasion, he said, "Get a little farther; go beyond the Oconee and the Okmulgee; there is a pleasant country." He also said, "It shall be yours forever." Now he says, "The land you live on is not yours; go beyond the Mississippi; there is game; there you may remain while the grass grows or the water runs." Brothers! Will not our great father come there also? He loves his red children, and his tongue is not forked.
Source: Wayne Moquin, ed., Great Documents in American Indian History, (New York, 1973), pp. 149-150.