American History I
American History, based largely on A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, 1995
Chapter 1: Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress
When Columbus and his sailors came ashore on one of the Bahama Islands on October 12, 1492, the Arawak Indians ran to greet them, bringing food, water, and gifts. Later, they traded parrots, balls of cotton, and cane spears for glass beads and metal bells. Their response was typical – European observers remarked again and again on Indian hospitality and their belief in sharing. These traits didn’t stand out in Europe at the time; it was dominated, Zinn says, “by the religion of popes, the government of kings, and the frenzy for money that marked Columbus, the first European messenger to the Americas.”
The king and queen of Spain had promised the explorer 10% of the profits of his expedition and the governorship of newfound lands. Seeing that the Arawaks had gold ornaments in their ears, Columbus took some of them prisoner and insisted that they guide him to the source of the precious metal. His gold hunger increased after sailing to Cuba and Hispaniola, where he saw bits of gold in the rivers.
Columbus built a fort on Hispaniola out of the timbers of one of his ships, and left 39 crewmembers there, with instructions to find and store the gold. Then, putting Indian prisoners aboard his two remaining ships, he set sail for Spain.
Columbus promised the king and queen as much gold and as many Indian slaves as they wanted if they’d sponsor a second voyage, and 17 ships and 1,200 men were provided. On this second expedition, the Spaniards went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indian captives. On Hispaniola they found that the sailors left behind at the fort had been killed in a battle with the Indians after roaming the island in gangs, looking for gold, and taking women and children as slaves.
From his base on Hispaniola, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. The Spaniards found no gold, but continued to take slaves. In 1495 they went on a great slave raid, rounded up 1,500 Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens, and picked the 500 best specimens to load on their ships. Two hundred of these captives died en route, and the rest were put up for sale in Spain.
Columbus then ordered all Indians fourteen or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they delivered it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off. The Indians fled, and they were hunted down with dogs and killed. The Arawaks then began committing mass suicide, using cassava poison. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Hispaniola were dead.
When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were used as slave labor on Spanish plantations. Worked at a ferocious pace, they died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were 50,000 left. By 1550, there were 500. A report from the year 1650, 158 years after Columbus’s arrival, shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island.
Thus began the history, 520 years ago, of the European invasion of Indian settlements in the Americas – not exactly the “heroic adventure” celebrated in children’s history books. History books for adults don’t always lie or omit the truth, Zinn says. They may even characterize the effect of European settlement on Native Americans as genocidal, “but they quickly move on, implying that it’s not that important. Emphasizing the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and deemphasizing their genocidal behavior is an ideological choice that serves to justify those acts. Unfortunately, the acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress is still with us.
Acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress is but one aspect of the dominant approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, and leaders. The ‘founding fathers,’ Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, leading members of Congress, and famous justices of the Supreme Court are depicted as deserving universal acceptance, and as representing the nation as a whole. The ‘United States’ is presented as a collective entity, subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. Such histories – supported by the educational system and the mass media – describe a ‘national interest’ represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, in the decisions of the courts, and in the development of capitalism.
‘History is the memory of states,’ wrote Henry Kissinger in his book A World Restored, in which he tells the history of 19th century Europe from the viewpoint of its leaders, ignoring the millions who suffered from their policies. From Kissinger’s standpoint, the ‘peace’ that Europe had before the French revolution was ‘restored’ in 1815 by the diplomacy of a few national leaders. But for factory workers in England, farmers in France, colored people in Asia and Africa, women and children everywhere except in the upper classes, it was a world of conquest, violence, hunger, and exploitation.”
Zinn’s viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is that “we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations aren’t communities and never have been. The history of any country includes fierce conflicts of interest between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers. In such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it’s the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.”
In the inevitable taking of sides resulting from selection and emphasis in history, Zinn prefers to try to tell the story of the United States from the point of view of Native Americans, slaves, rank-and-file soldiers, workers, socialists, and pacifists. In doing so, he hopes to suggest different possibilities for the present and future.
“What Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas, Cortez did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts to the Powhatans and the Pequots,” Zinn says.
The Virginians, unable either to enslave or live with the Indians, decided to exterminate them. As Edmund Morgan writes in his history of early Virginia, American Slavery, American Freedom: “Since the Indians were better woodsmen than the colonists and virtually impossible to track down, the method was to feign peaceful intentions, let them settle down and plant their corn, and then, just before harvest, fall upon them, killing as many as possible and burning the corn.”
The Massachusetts Puritans, who wanted the land of the Pequots in what is now southern Connecticut and Rhode Island, used the murder of a white trader, Indian kidnapper, and troublemaker as an excuse to make war on them in 1636. Massacres took place on both sides, but the English developed a tactic of warfare used earlier by Cortez and later, in the 20th century, even more systematically: deliberate attacks on noncombatants for the purpose of terrorizing the enemy.
According to Wikipedia, the Pequot War was an armed conflict in 1637-1638 between an alliance of the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies, using Native American allies (the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes), against the Pequots. The war ended with the elimination of the Pequot as a viable polity in southern New England. Many Pequot people were killed by the colonists and their allies; more were captured and sold into slavery in Bermuda.
On May 26, 1637, in the most brutal engagement of the war, a force of 400 fighting men under John Mason attacked the Pequot village of Misistuck by surprise while most of its men were gone. Mason ordered that the village, on the Mystic River near Long Island Sound, be set on fire, and that any Pequot attempting to escape the flames be killed. Of the 600 to 700 Pequot at Mystic that day, only seven were taken prisoner, while another seven escaped. The Narragansett and Mohegan warriors fighting alongside Mason and John Underhill’s colonial militia were horrified by the actions and “manner of the Englishmen’s fight, because it is too furious, and slays too many men.”
The Puritans even attempted to extirpate the Pequot from history, making it a crime to speak their name. The few Pequot who managed to evade death or slavery were eventually assigned reservations in Connecticut.
Forty years after destroying the Pequot, the Puritans went after the Wampanoags, who occupied the southern shore of Massachusetts Bay. Ethnohistorian Francis Jennings says the Puritan elite wanted the war; the ordinary English settler didn’t, and often refused to fight.
According to Wikipedia, in 1600 about 12,000 Wampanoag lived in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Squanto (or Tisquantum), the Indian who helped the Pilgrims survive their first years in the New World, was a Wampanoag who’d been kidnapped by an English merchant and sold into slavery in England. Released after several years, Tisquantum returned to his homeland in 1619, and made a sad discovery. His people were no more – they’d all died in an epidemic of European disease. Historians believe French fishermen carried bubonic plague to what is now Maine. The plague killed a large proportion of northeastern Indians in 1617.
After settling in Massasoit’s village, Tisquantum came in contact with the Pilgrims, who’d arrived in the New World in December 1620, more than half of them dying before spring arrived. Samoset, a resident of the Wampanoag village who spoke some English, visited them on March 16th. On March 22nd, he returned with Tisquantum, who spoke better English. Squanto, as the Pilgrims called him, taught the new arrivals the best places to catch fish, helped them build warmer houses, and taught them when and how to plant corn and how to cook it. Finally, he advised the Pilgrims in their relations with the Wampanoag, acting as interpreter and guiding them on trading expeditions. Tisquantum died in 1622, either from a fever or poisoned by Massasoit who’d come to distrust him.
After 1630, the members of Plymouth Colony found themselves becoming a minority, due to the growing number of Puritans arriving and settling near present-day Boston. Barely tolerant of other Christian denominations, the Puritans viewed the native peoples as savages and heathens. They were also soldiers and traders, who had little interest in friendship or cooperation with the Indians. Under this new leadership, the English expanded westwards into the Connecticut River Valley, destroying the powerful Pequot Confederation, as we’ve seen, in 1637.
Between 1640 and 1675 new waves of settlers arrived, continuing to force the native peoples westward. Recurring epidemics also thinned the Indian population. Puritan missionaries converted some Indians to Christianity. These were resettled in fourteen “praying towns,” where they were pressured to adopt English practices like monogamous marriage and agriculture. The motivations of the Wampanoags and other Indians to convert to Christianity were varied, but the many epidemics Indians had suffered since the arrival of the Europeans certainly contributed. The English attempt to introduce a patriarchal society to their Wampanoag converts failed in many cases, because Wampanoag women were often the spiritual leaders of their households. They were also more likely to convert than Indian men.
Before his death in 1661, Massasoit asked the leaders of Plymouth to give his sons English names. Wamsutta, the older son, was given the name Alexander, and his younger brother Metacomet was named Philip. After his father’s death, Alexander became the sachem of the Wampanoag. The English weren’t happy about this, because they felt he was too self-confident, so they invited him to Plymouth to talk. On the way home he became seriously ill and died. The Wampanoag were told he died of fever, but many thought he’d been poisoned.
When Metacomet (“King Philip”) became sachem of the Wampanoag a year later, the relationship between the Wampanoag and the colonists changed dramatically. Understanding that the English intended not only to take over native land, but suppress the Indian way of life, Philip decided to try to stop them from building more settlements. Since there were only 1,000 Wampanoag left by this time, Philip visited other tribes to ask for their help. This was a nearly hopeless undertaking, because the number of colonists in southern New England was now more than double that of the Indians – there were 35,000 colonists and only 15,000 natives. In 1671 Philip was called to Taunton, where he listened to the accusations of the English and signed an agreement that required the Wampanoag to give up their firearms. To be on the safe side, he didn’t take part in the subsequent dinner, and didn’t deliver the weapons either.
English land seizures continued, and little by little, Philip gained the Nipmuck, Pocomtuc, and some Pennacooks and Abenakis from further north as allies. The Narragansett remained neutral at the beginning of the war. On July 21, 1675, the Indians attacked a number of white settlements and burned them to the ground. The unexpected attacks caused panic among the English – of 90 English settlements, 52 were attacked and partially burned down.
The war spread all over New England, as more Maine tribes joined in against the English. Even the former enemies of the Wampanoags, the Narragansetts of Rhode Island, relinquished their neutrality after the colonists attacked one of their fortified villages. In that battle, which became known as the ‘Great Swamp Massacre,’ the Narragansett lost more than 600 people and 20 sachems.
In the spring of 1676, after a winter of hunger and deprivation, the tide turned against Philip. The English troops set out on a relentless chase after him, and his best ally, Sachem Canonchet of the Narragansett, was taken captive and executed by a firing squad. During the summer months, Philip escaped from his pursuers to a hideout on Mount Hope. But in August it was discovered by Indian scouts working for the English, and 173 Wampanoags were killed or taken prisoner. Philip escaped capture, but among the prisoners taken were his wife and nine-year-old son, who were put on a ship and sold as slaves in the West Indies. On August 12, 1676, English troops surrounded Philip’s camp, and shortly thereafter he was shot and killed. His head was cut off and displayed on a pike in Plymouth for 20 years.
Only about 400 Wampanoags survived the war. The Narragansetts and Nipmucks suffered similar losses, and many small tribes in southern New England were, for all intents and purposes, gone. Many Wampanoags were sold into slavery. Male captives were generally sold to slave traders and transported to the West Indies, Bermuda, or Virginia, while women and children were used as slaves in New England. Of those Indians not sold into slavery, many were forced to move to Natick, Wamesit, Punkapoag, and Hassanamesit, the only praying towns reopened after the war. Overall, approximately 5,000 Native Americans (40% of the population) and 2,500 English (5%) were killed in King Philip’s War.
The Wampanoag on Nantucket Island were almost completely destroyed by an unknown plague in 1763; the last Nantucket died in 1855. The Gay Head Wampanoag still have a reservation on Martha’s Vineyard, having received government recognition in 1987 from the Bureau of Indian Affairs for 1,000 registered members. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod consists of 1,200 registered members, owns many stores and museums, and since 1924 has put on a powwow every year at the beginning of July. The Wampanoag have also purchased land in Middleborough, Massachusetts on which to build a casino.
The Indian population of 10 million that lived north of Mexico in 1492 would ultimately be reduced to less than a million. Huge numbers of Indians died from diseases introduced by the whites before ever seeing them.
Zinn writes, “Columbus and his successors didn’t come to an empty wilderness, but to a world in some places as densely populated as Europe, where the culture was complex, where human relations were more generally more egalitarian than in Europe, and where relations between men, women, and children were more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world. John Collier, an American scholar who lived among Indians in the American southwest in the 1920s and ‘30s, said of their spirit: ‘Could we make it our own, there would be an eternally inexhaustible earth and a forever lasting peace.’ It’s hard to see how the destruction of these cultures constituted ‘progress.'”
Comparing Two U.S. History Textbooks with Zinn on Native Americans
Wanting to get an idea of what kids are learning about American history today, I borrowed some textbooks. Middle school students (6th, 7th, and 8th graders) in Eugene, OR, where I live, read Creating America: a History of the United States – Beginnings through Reconstruction by Garcia, et al, published in 2005. The second volume in this history, The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century by Danzer et al, is studied in high school (10th, 11th, and 12th grades). Since I still have the two-volume U.S. history textbook I studied in 10th and 11th grades in 1960 and 1961 – The American Republic by Hofstadter, et al, published in 1959, I added that to my comparison.
The older text doesn’t have as many flashy graphics and “helping questions,” but it’s much better written, and so much more mature it seems like a college-level text compared to the spoon-feeding of Creating America. The newer text can’t develop the complex cause-and-effect ideas necessary to understand history in its short, “sound bite” blocks of text, interspersed with eye-catching images and sidebars that are often more distracting than illuminating. The Americans is almost as bad, and includes, as all American history textbooks do, inaccurate patriotic statements and a general tone of “most of what happened was good, was progress, making us the wonderful, rich, and democratic country we are today,” etc. More and more, textbooks are also written by committee, and attempt to satisfy various groups and interests. This makes it hard for them to sustain a narrative flow and explain complex events. Add the patronizing patriotic propaganda, and the result is a mishmash guaranteed to bore even an amateur historian like myself.
I took a detailed look at what these textbooks, old and new, teach about the first contacts between Native Americans and Europeans. The title of Creating America’s first unit refers to “worlds” meeting and begins with a full-page picture of Cliff Palace, a large Anasazi ruin at Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado, overlaid with a quote from a present-day Taos Pueblo man. On the next page, in large bold type, is the question “What happens when different societies meet”? This question, which I think is extremely important for young people – or anyone – to consider, was the underlying theme of a middle school social studies unit on the California missions I created for a class I student taught in 1999. (See “The California Missions” under “American History.”)
Chapter One of this unit in Creating America includes a map of North American Indian tribes and cultures in 1500 that I compared with a similar map in my old textbook, The American Republic. The older map, titled “Original Locations of American Indian Tribes,” includes more tribes and an underlay of state boundaries, and Creating America’s map is incorrect on the location of the Aztec, the Cheyenne, the Lakota, and other Plains tribes.
Both texts have short sections on Native American culture, with The American Republic emphasizing technological advances or lack of them and Creating America giving a few more specifics. Neither book brings out the critical opposition in Native American and European values that caused most of the misunderstandings between the two peoples.
Creating America says – as if it’s not that important – that Columbus’s men “angered the Taino people by stealing from them and committing violence.” On the same page, the reader’s eye is drawn to a picture of a squat little statue with goggle eyes that’s supposedly “one of the few Taino artifacts left from the 1500s.” The text next to it reads: “The Spanish enslaved the Taino, who nearly all died from disease and bad treatment.” Giving us the details of the “bad treatment” and “violence,” as Zinn does, makes it real and serious, but this bland version just makes our eyes glaze over. The first part of a sidebar text says that “in 1992, many Native Americans protested the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage,” and quotes Suzan Shown Harjo, a Cheyenne-Creek as to the reason why: “As Native American peoples, we have no reason to celebrate an invasion that caused the demise of so many of our people and is still causing destruction today.” Fine, but it doesn’t impress upon the reader the full scope and seriousness of the genocidal behavior of Columbus and his men and that of most other Europeans. It doesn’t mention the 90% attrition rate among Native Americans as a result of their lack of immunity to European diseases either, a critical and mindblowing fact. These are horrors that should shock us, not undramatic, out-of-context factoids we consign to oblivion before they’ve even registered.
The American Republic discusses the details of Columbus’s voyages in its first chapter without mentioning anything about his dealings with Native Americans. The older text’s description of the effect of Europeans on Native Americans begins with a segment titled “The Indians and the English” in the book’s second chapter. It says that “the Powhatan Confederacy of Virginia, powerful and numerous when the English came, was all but annihilated” when it struck back at the first wave of English settlers, “and by 1700 war, whiskey, and disease had finished off the remnants. New England soldiers exterminated the Pequot tribe in 1637 in a war marked by barbarities on both sides…When in 1675-76, King Philip, son of a friendly Narragansett chief, Massasoit, challenged the power of the New England colonies, he and his warriors were hunted down and destroyed in a bloody and costly campaign…In the Carolinas, smallpox and war finished off the Tuscaroras and the Yamasee by the early 18th century, and in the Gulf area, Spanish, French, and English joined in the destruction of the Creeks, Chickasaws, and other tribes. Slave raids, wars, disease, and liquor wiped out whole tribes in Florida and Mississippi, and the same fate befell once-powerful tribes in the Central states and the Great Plains. Almost everywhere, epidemic diseases (especially smallpox) seem to have killed more Indians than wars or whiskey…Rival European powers bribed tribes with guns, trinkets, and liquor to fight in their ranks against other whites and their Indian allies. After the Indians had served that purpose, however, they were either confined to reservations or exterminated.”
Pretty good, so far, except that Massasoit was a Wampanoag, not a Narragansett. Then we get: “Well into the 19th century the Indian had to be reckoned with in the struggle for the North American continent…The Cherokee and related southern tribes delayed the extension of the Cotton Kingdom after the Revolution. And after the Civil War the Sioux, Blackfeet, the Apache, and other horse Indians, stubbornly resisted the Americans’ efforts toward railroad construction and settlement.” Whoa there, Hofstadter et al! Are we talking about human beings, animals, or inconveniently placed stone walls? I guess you’d “stubbornly resist” losing your land and entire way of life, too.
Chapter Two of Creating America discusses the Spanish colonial empire, beginning with a truly dumb question: “Would you prefer Cortes or Montezuma as ruler of your country?” Ummm, neither?
Later, we read about the encomienda system in which Spanish colonists were given the right to Native American slave labor on their estates – except it’s presented this way: “Some Spanish colonists received encomiendas to help them make the colonies productive. An encomienda was a grant of Native American labor. The Spanish rulers also created large estates, called haciendas, to provide food for the colony. Haciendas often became plantations, large farms that raised cash crops such as sugar, coffee, and cotton, which were in great demand in Europe. The Spanish forced Native Americans to work on these plantations.” It’s all very impersonal, progressive, and productive, with treatment of Indians conveyed in the passive voice, except for the last throwaway sentence.
In the next paragraph, we read, “Most Spaniards treated the Native Americans as little more than beasts of burden, forcing countless numbers of them to work in the fields and mines. In addition, some missionaries mistreated them by forcing them to work terribly hard. Other missionaries, though, tried to protect Native Americans from being treated cruelly.” Well, one – Bartolomé de Las Casas, mentioned in the next paragraph. “Due to his efforts, Spanish authorities passed laws providing greater protection for Native Americans. Most colonists, however, ignored the laws.” This is all so bland – no tone of moral outrage, no reason to care about these “beasts of burden.” These were human beings, who had families, homes, and lives they wanted to live, just like we do!
Next, we hear about the 1680 Pueblo revolt against the Spanish in New Mexico, and the fact that African slavery was necessitated by the fact that too many Indians were dying “from overwork and European diseases.” That the Spanish could have done the work themselves, or paid workers to do it isn’t even considered.
The older textbook quickly goes through Cortés, Pizarro, de Soto, and Coronado, then says, “The encomienda, a system of enforced native labor, sometimes resulted in frightful abuses,” but – further on – the Spanish “instructed the Indians in husbandry and handicrafts.” More forthright, but qualified, and so quick as to be accepting. And “frightful”? Not the adjective I would have chosen.
Neither Zinn nor the textbooks tackle the subject of Indian slavery. As documented in The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717by Alan Gallay, 2002, Indians used captives as slaves before (and after) the arrival of Europeans, but had no organized slave trade until after contact. The early English colonists used Indian slaves, mostly purchased from other Indian tribes, to produce “lumber, shingles, and staves, and beef and corn for export, often to Barbados.”
This happened especially in the Carolinas, against current laws and moral standards, according to which “enslavement of free people was a condition reserved for captives taken in a ‘just war’ or prisoners convicted of a crime. The Indian slaves in Carolina were captured not in a just war, but in raids conducted for the sole purpose of turning free people into slaves. Nowhere else in the English empire at this time was the enslavement of Indians undertaken on such a large scale, Gallay says. Puritan New England was just ending its period of large-scale enslavement of Indians taken in the Pequot War (1636-1637) and King Philip’s War (1675-1676).
The English competed with the French in the South by arming the Chickasaw, whose towns became the central depot for slaving operations in the Mississippi Valley. The English and the Chickasaw engaged in expeditions to the south against the Choctaw and to the north against the Arkansas, and terrorized Mississippi River peoples like the Tunica and Taensa.
Between 1702 and 1704, Carolinians and Creek killed hundreds of Florida Apalachee and took 2,000 prisoner (out of a population of 7,000). 1,300-1,400 were sold into slavery. All of Florida’s Indians were exposed to English slave raids, and 15,000-20,000 Florida and Georgia Indians under Spanish protection had been enslaved by 1715. Slaving, warfare, and disease nearly depopulated Florida of Indians in the early 18th century.
In September 1708, the governor and council of Carolina sent descriptions of the colony and its neighboring Indians and a census to England. The population of Carolina was set at 9,580, evenly divided between whites and blacks, who each comprised 42.5% of the inhabitants, with enslaved Indians making up the other 15%. Children accounted for more than 41% of the white population, 29% of the black population, and just 21.4% of the Indian population. Black women outnumbered white women, 1,100 to 960. There were only 120 white servants, evenly divided between men and women, most of whom were probably indentured. Indian slave women outnumbered Indian slave men by 6 to 5.
In 1711, using Indian allies, South Carolina helped North Carolina in the latter colony’s war against the Tuscarora, in which at least 1,000 to 1,200 Tuscarora and their allies were enslaved.
There are no figures for Piedmont, Westo, Savannah, Creek, Cherokee, and Chickasaw enslaved, but all the evidence points to large-scale enslavement from the 1670s through 1700, Gallay says. He estimates that 30,000 to 50,000 southern Amerindians were captured by the British or by Native Americans for sale to the British and enslaved before 1715.
Carolina exported more slaves than it imported before 1715. Most Indian slaves were taken to Barbados, Jamaica, and Bermuda, and to the northern colonies: Boston, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia. By 1715 Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire had barred the importation of Indian slaves. Most Indian slaves were women and children destined to become house servants and trade apprentices, whereas the majority of African slaves were adult males intended for heavy plantation labor.
The Indian slave trade in the Southwest is documented in a 1966 book with that title by L.R. Bailey, who writes that “roaming tribes of Mexico’s central plateau – the Chichimecas – were the first to feel the impact of Spanish slave raiding after 1600…and the raiding spread northward. The Spanish traded with Indian allies for captives from hostile tribes living along the Pecos, Rio Grande, San Pedro, Santa Cruz, and Gila Rivers. Slaves ended in households in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos, Chihuahua City, and Janos.”
Slave raiding didn’t end when Americans took over the Southwest. In fact, the trade was at its height from 1846 to the outbreak of the Civil War. Many American military commanders, like their Spanish and Mexican counterparts, either aided and abetted the practice or closed their eyes to it. Militia companies recruited during intense periods of Indian depredations were often paid by being permitted to keep captives, and many politicians pandered to slave procurers and traders, who benefited by keeping the tribes hostile.
In the first three decades of the 18th century, the French gave their allies – the Wichita, Pawnee, Kansas, Osage, and Comanche – guns, powder, and shot, and encouraged them to raid tribes under Spanish domination – the Navajo, Jicarilla Apache, and Pueblo – and bring back captives. The Spanish in turn started accepting Pawnees, Wichita, etc. as slaves. Taos, San Juan, Nambe, Zia, Bernalillo, and Pecos served as springboards for expeditions and as slave trading centers. Most of these Indian slaves remained in New Mexico serving as menials to prosperous Spanish and mestizo families, but some ended in the mines of Chihuahua. In 1716 a large number of Comanche were transported there as slave labor.
From 1700 to 1725, corrupt Mexican officials made or authorized entradas (slave raids) against Apache bands to supply themselves with ranch and mine labor. The Apache retaliated deep into Sonora and Chihuahua, and by the mid-1770s, these states were on the brink of ruin. After the 1848 treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, the Americans began building forts and fighting the Apache, whose raids had abated by the 1870s.
From 1690 to 1868 (when they returned from imprisonment in Bosque Redondo), at least 1,000 Navajo died in battle with Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans. Records also show that 1,600 Navajo women and children were baptized (after being taken captive) in New Mexican churches. By 1755 there was conflict over land, as Mexicans began settling in eastern Navajoland. When Mexican authority collapsed during its struggle for independence in the 1820s, the Navajo attacked slave trading centers like Abiquiu, Cebolleta, Jemez, and Cubero. In the 1830s, however, the New Mexican governor authorized a number of slave raiding expeditions in which Navajo were killed or taken as slaves, and sheep and corn stolen.
In 1863 Colonel Kit Carson rounded up the Mescalero Apache and forced the Navajos on their Long Walk, both tribes ending up at Bosque Redondo in east-central New Mexico. Nine thousand Navajos were held in the concentration camp at Bosque Redondo, their horses and sheep taken or destroyed. Carson allowed Ute scouts and New Mexican volunteers to keep captives and sell them to New Mexican families, and slave procurers continued bringing death, destruction, and captivity to Navajo still at large. In 1864 U.S. military personnel searched the towns of northern New Mexico for Navajo slaves in order to take them to Bosque Redondo. Many Mexican families had second and third generation captives, who had lost their native language and culture completely.
Great Basin Paiutes were taken by mounted Utes armed with trade guns and sold to New Mexicans starting in the early 1800s. This slave trade, at its height from 1830 to the mid-1840s, spread to Nevada and California. Californios – Mexican settlers in California – sought and purchased Paiute slaves, too.
I think any discussion of early Native Americans and their first contacts with Europeans should provide a better picture of their pre-contact status than any of these histories do. For example, how many Native Americans were there in the Americas or what would become the United States in 1492? Only The American Republic attempts to provide an answer: about one million in the latter area.
The 2005 book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbusby Charles C. Mann answers this question and many more, describing new research debunking long-held theories. First of all, some of the people who would first inhabit the Americas crossed the Bering Strait land bridge from Asia much earlier than has been long believed. Mann says: “Researchers differ on the details; some scientists have theorized that the Americas may have been hit with as many as five waves of settlement before Columbus, with the earliest occurring as many as 50,000 years ago.”
The main point of 1491 is that “the Western Hemisphere before 1492 was a thriving, stunningly diverse place, a tumult of languages, trade, and culture, a region where tens of millions of people lived and worked. Much of this world vanished after Columbus, swept away by disease and subjugation. So thorough was the erasure that within a few generations neither conqueror nor conquered remembered that this world had existed.”
By the end of the first millennium AD, New England’s major river valleys held large, permanent villages that cultivated extensive fields of maize, beans, and squash. Along the coast, where Tisquantum and Massasoit lived, villages were smaller and looser, but no less permanent. When winter came, shoreline families moved a fifteen-minute walk inland to avoid direct exposure to the season’s storms and tides. Each village had its own mix of farming and foraging. In 1605 and 1606 Samuel de Champlain, the famous explorer, visited Cape Cod, hoping to establish a French base. He abandoned the idea, however, thinking too many people already lived there.
As noted above, Tisquantum was kidnapped by the English, and found his village in ruins, decimated by an epidemic, when he was able to return. The “epidemic, probably of viral hepatitis, spread by contaminated food, began in 1616, took at least three years to exhaust itself, and killed 90% of the people in coastal New England.”
Until the sickness, Massasoit had directly ruled a community of several thousand and held sway over a confederation of as many as 20,000. Now his group was reduced to 60 people and the entire confederation to fewer than a thousand. Groups like the Narragansett, which had been spared by the epidemic of 1616, were crushed by a smallpox epidemic in 1633. A third to a half of the remaining Indians in New England died.
Because of the way European microbes operated, the first whites to explore many parts of the Americas encountered places that were already depopulated by these killer diseases. As a result, all colonial population estimates were too low. Many of them, put together just after epidemics, would have represented population nadirs, not approximations of pre-contact numbers. When Columbus landed, the central Mexican plateau alone had a population of 25.2 million.
The Indian population of the Americas in 1491 was between 90 and 112 million people, Mann says. When Columbus sailed, more people lived in the Americas than in Europe. According to a 1999 estimate from the United Nations, the earth’s population at the beginning of the 16th century was about 500 million. “Disease claimed the lives of 80-100 million Indians by the first third of the 17th century – one out of every five people on earth. The greatest destruction of lives in human history.”
Mann goes on to say that “Native Americans may have been in the Americas for 20,000 or 30,000 years.” He also states that “almost every North American Indian group shaped their environment” in some way, many using fire to increase the amount of forage for large herbivores. “Rather than a thick, unbroken snarl of trees, the great eastern forest was an ecological kaleidoscope of garden plots, blackberry rambles, pine barrens, and spacious groves of chestnut, hickory, and oak. The first white settlers in Ohio found woodlands that resembled English parks – they could drive carriages through the trees. The same was true in Rhode Island and Virginia.
When Indian societies disintegrated from disease and mistreatment, forest invaded savanna in Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and the Texas hill country. Europeans never knew or forgot what the landscape had looked like before and why. The memory of indigenous fire faded.
At the time of Columbus, there was agriculture in as much as two-thirds of what is now the continental United States.”
Chapter 2: Drawing the Color Line
The first slave ship, flying the Dutch flag, came to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 with a cargo of 20 slaves.
“There is not a country in world history in which racism has been more important, for so long a time, as the United States,” Zinn writes. “And the problem of ‘the color line’ is still with us. Some historians think those first blacks in Virginia were treated like the white indentured servants brought from Europe, but Zinn says “the strong probability is that, even if they were listed as ‘servants,’ they were viewed and treated differently, and were slaves.”
The Virginians of 1619 were desperate for labor to grow the food and tobacco for export, since many of the first white settlers were skilled craftsmen or men of leisure, little inclined to work the land. A million black slaves had already been brought from Africa to the Portuguese and Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and South America. Slavery existed in Africa, “but it was far different from plantation or mining slavery in the Americas, which was lifelong, morally crippling, destructive of family ties, and without hope of any future. African slavery lacked two elements that made American slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture; and the reduction of the slave to less than human status by the use of racial hatred.” By 1800, 10 to 15 million blacks had been transported as slaves to the Americas, but because so many died in transit, Africa actually lost 50 million human beings to the slave trade.
Slavery was immensely profitable. James Madison told a British visitor shortly after the American Revolution that he could make $257 on a Negro in a year, and spend only $12 or $13 on his keep. On the other hand, slaves ran away, despite the fact that they were killed or mutilated if captured, and “fear of slave revolt seems to have been a permanent fact of plantation life. Slaveowners developed an intricate and powerful system of control to maintain their labor supply and way of life – a system both subtle and crude, involving every device that social orders employ for keeping power and wealth where it is. There was the discipline of hard labor, the breakup of the slave family, the lulling effect of religion, and the creation of disunity among slaves by separating them into field slaves and more privileged house slaves. Finally, there was the power of the law and the immediate power of the owner or overseer to whip, burn, mutilate, or kill his slaves.”
The first large-scale slave revolt in the North American colonies took place in New York in 1712. Slaves were 10% of the population of the state’s population, the highest proportion in the northern states, where economic conditions usually didn’t require large numbers of field slaves. Twenty-five blacks and two Indians set fire to a building, then killed 9 whites who came on the scene. They were captured by soldiers, put on trial, and 21 were executed in various excruciating ways to serve notice to other slaves.
At Stono, South Carolina in 1739, 20 slaves rebelled, killed two warehouse guards, stole guns and gunpowder, and headed south, burning buildings and killing people in their way. They were joined by others, until there were perhaps 80 slaves in all. According to one account of the time, “they marched with colors displayed and two drums beating, calling out “Liberty!” The uprising ended when 50 slaves and 25 whites were killed in a battle with militia.
There were 10,000 whites and 2,000 black slaves in New York City in 1741. It had been a hard winter, and the poor – slave and free – had suffered greatly. When mysterious fires broke out, blacks and whites were accused of conspiring together, and mass hysteria developed against the accused. After a trial full of false confessions and lurid accusations by informers, 31 slaves and four whites were executed.
Chapter 3: Persons of Mean and Vile Condition
In 1676, 70 years after Virginia was founded, it faced a rebellion of white frontiersmen, joined by slaves and servants, a rebellion so threatening that the governor had to flee the burning capital of Jamestown, and England sent 1,000 soldiers across the Atlantic to maintain order among the 40,000 colonists. Nathaniel Bacon, the leader of the rebellion, had convinced ordinary people that the laws and taxes of the colony were unjust and oppressive.
Bacon’s Rebellion began with conflict over how to deal with the Indians threatening the western frontier. Poorer whites had gone west to find land, and they resented the fact that the politicians and landed aristocrats who controlled the colony’s government were uninterested in defending the frontier against the Indians who disputed it.
“Times were hard in 1676. The dry summer ruined the corn crop, which was needed for food, and the tobacco crop, needed for export. Bacon, a member of the propertied class himself, had been elected to the House of Burgesses in the spring. When he insisted on organizing armed detachments outside official control to fight the Indians, the governor, William Berkeley, proclaimed him a rebel and had him captured. Two thousand Virginians then marched into Jamestown in protest.
A British ship cruising the York River, became the base for securing order. Its captain used deception to disarm the last rebel forces. He promised to pardon a force of 400 armed Englishmen and Negroes and free the servants and slaves among them, but after surrendering, 23 rebel leaders were hanged, and the servants and slaves were returned to their masters.
Indentured servants were immigrants hoping to escape poverty in England. They agreed to pay the cost of their passage by working for a master for five to seven years. Others were poor children, gathered up by the hundreds in the streets of English cities. Indentured servants were bought and sold like slaves, beatings and whippings were common, and women were raped. Many servants committed suicide, or died of disease. In 1663, servants in Gloucester County, Virginia planned a general uprising, but one of them gave the plot away, and four were executed.
Escape was easier than rebellion, and numerous instances of mass desertions by white servants took place in the southern colonies, according to Richard Morris, who studied colonial newspapers. Free men had to show passports or certificates to prove their status, and agreements between the colonies provided for the extradition of fugitive servants.
More than half the colonists who came to North America in the colonial period arrived as servants. They were mostly English in the 17th century, Irish and Germans in the 18th century. As late as 1755, white servants made up 10% of the population of Maryland. Eighty percent of servants either died during their servitude, returned to England after it was over, or became ‘poor whites,’ landless tenants providing cheap labor for the large planters.
Class lines hardened during the colonial period. By 1700 there were 50 rich families in Virginia, who lived off the labor of black slaves and white servants, owned the plantations, sat on the governor’s council, and served as local magistrates. In Maryland, the settlers were ruled by a proprietor whose right of total control over the colony had been granted by the English king.
The Carolina colony’s constitution was written in the 1660s by John Locke, often considered the philosophical father of the founding fathers. It set up a feudal aristocracy, in which eight barons owned 40% of the colony’s land, and only a baron could be governor. When the crown took direct control of North Carolina after a rebellion against the land arrangements, rich speculators seized half a million acres for themselves, monopolizing the good farming land near the coast. Poor people, desperate for land, squatted on bits of farmland and fought against the landlords’ attempts to collect rent.
Carl Bridenbaugh’s study of colonial cities, Cities in the Wilderness, reveals a clear-cut class system. He writes that the first leaders of Boston and Newport, Rhode Island were “gentlemen of considerable wealth who, in association with the clergy, sought to preserve English social arrangements in America. By means of their control of trade and commerce, by their political domination of the inhabitants through church and town meeting, and by careful marriage alliances among themselves, members of this little oligarchy laid the foundation for an aristocratic class in 17th century Boston.”
New York in the colonial period was like a feudal kingdom. The Dutch had set up a patroonship system along the Hudson River, with enormous landed estates, where the barons completely controlled the lives of their tenants.
Black slaves were 8% of the colonial population in 1690; 21% in 1770. The population of the colonies was 250,000 in 1700; 1,600,000 by 1760. “Through all that growth,” Zinn says, “the upper class was getting most of the benefits and monopolizing political power.” A historian who studied Boston tax lists in 1687 and 1771 found that in 1687 there were, out of a population of 6,000, about 1,000 property owners, and that the top 5% – 1% of the population – consisted of 50 rich individuals who had 25% of the wealth. By 1770, the top 1% of property owners owned 44% of the wealth.
As Boston grew, from 1687 to 1770, the percentage of adult males who were poor and owned no property doubled from 14% of the adult males to 29%. And at this time lack of property meant no voting rights. “Everywhere the poor were struggling to stay alive,” Zinn says. “All the cities built poorhouses in the 1730s, not just for old people, widows, crippled, and orphans, but for the unemployed, war veterans, and new immigrants. And they were bursting at the seams. The colonies were societies of contending classes, a fact obscured in traditional histories by the emphasis on the external struggle against England.”
Throughout this period, England was fighting a series of wars (Queen Anne’s War in the early 1700s and King George’s War in the 1730s). Some merchants made fortunes from these wars, but for most people they meant higher taxes, unemployment, and poverty.
By the years of the revolutionary crisis, the 1760s, the wealthy elite that controlled the British colonies on the American mainland had 150 years of experience, and had learned certain things about how to rule. They saw the Indians, too unruly to be useful as a labor force, merely as an obstacle to expansion. The profitability of black slaves, on the other hand, had led to an enormous increase in their importation – such that they were a majority in some colonies and overall constituted one-fifth of the population. Along with the problem of Indian hostility, and the danger of slave revolts, the colonial elite had to consider the class anger of poor whites – servants, tenants, the city poor, the taxpayer, the soldier, and the sailor. Control became more difficult by the mid-18th century, as the gap between rich and poor widened.
There was little chance that whites and Indians in North America would combine as they were doing in South and Central America, where the shortage of women and the use of Indians on the plantations led to daily contact. In fact, it was possible to turn poor whites against the Indians on the western frontier for the benefit of the elite.
In the northern colonies there wasn’t much opportunity for blacks and Indians to meet, but in the Carolinas whites were outnumbered by black slaves and nearby Indian tribes. Laws were passed prohibiting free blacks from traveling in Indian country, and treaties with Indian tribes contained clauses requiring the return of fugitive slaves. Still, blacks ran away to Indian villages, and the Creeks and Cherokees harbored hundreds of runaway slaves.
It was the potential combination of poor whites and blacks that caused the most fear among wealthy white planters, who also bemoaned the scarcity of white servants to oversee black slaves. In 1717 the British parliament made transportation to the ‘New World’ a legal punishment for crime. After that, thousands of convicts were sent to Virginia, Maryland, and other colonies. In the 1720s, with fear of slave rebellion growing, white servants in Virginia were allowed to join the militia, and poor white men served on slave patrols to get monetary rewards.
Everywhere the developing middle class of small planters, independent farmers, and city artisans were given small rewards for joining forces with wealthy merchants and planters as a buffer against black slaves, frontier Indians, and poor whites. For example, the government cultivated the support of white skilled workers by barring slaves and free Negroes from most of the jobs they did. Members of the elite also encouraged middle-class Americans to oppose some of the rich (the Tories), in the name of protecting ‘our’ liberty and ‘our’ country.”
Chapter 4: Tyranny Is Tyranny
After 1763, with England victorious over France in the Seven Years’ War (known in America as the French and Indian War), the British declared Indian land beyond the Appalachians out of bounds to white settlers. In the Stamp Act of 1765 they also showed that they expected the colonies to provide more wealth to pay for the war.
Skilled workers in Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia were demanding more political representation and economic equity, even questioning the right of the rich to acquire unlimited private property. During elections for the 1776 convention to frame a constitution for Pennsylvania, one group drew up a bill of rights, which stated that “an enormous proportion of property vested in a few individuals is dangerous to the rights, and destructive of the common happiness, of mankind; and therefore every free state hath a right by its laws to discourage the possession of such property.”
In the countryside, where most people lived, there was a similar conflict of poor against rich that political leaders would use to mobilize the population against England, granting some benefits to the rebellious poor and many more to themselves. The tenant riots in New Jersey in the 1740s and New York’s Hudson Valley in the 1750s and ’60s, and the rebellion in northeastern New York that led to the establishment of the state of Vermont were long-lasting, highly organized social movements involving the creation of counter-governments, however. The land rioters saw their battle as poor against rich. Ethan Allen’s Vermont Green Mountain Boys described themselves as “a poor people…fatigued in settling a wilderness country,” and their opponents as “a number of Attorneys and other gentlemen, with all their tackle of ornaments, and compliments, and French finesse.”
In North Carolina a powerful movement of white farmers organized against wealthy and corrupt officials from 1665 to 1771. Called the Regulator movement, it consisted, of class-conscious white farmers in the west who attempted to democratize local and county government in their areas. They resented the tax system and the merchants and lawyers who worked the courts to collect debts from farmers. In May 1771, several thousand Regulators were defeated by an army using cannon, and six Regulators were hanged. In the three western counties of Orange, Anson, and Rowan, where the Regulator movement was concentrated, it had the support of 6,000 to 7,000 men out of a total white taxable population of 8,000. A consequence of this bitter conflict is that only a minority of people in the Regulator counties participated in the Revolutionary War.
The key battles of the Revolution were fought in the North, however, and here, in the cities, the colonial leaders had won over the middle-class “mechanics,” who faced competition from English manufacturers.
The “Sons of Liberty,” Boston leaders of the movement against the Stamp Act, instigated mob action, but then became frightened that it might be directed against their wealth, too. The rich set up armed patrols, and the leaders who planned the demonstration denounced its violence. When the Stamp Act was repealed due to overwhelming resistance, the leaders severed their connections with the rioters. Peaceful boycotts were used to oppose the British parliament’s next attempt to tax the colonies.
On March 5, 1770, a crowd of ropemakers angry about British soldiers taking their jobs, gathered in front of the custom house and began throwing snowballs at the soldiers, who fired and killed Crispus Attucks, a mulatto worker, and others. Ten thousand people marched in the funeral procession for the victims of the Boston Massacre, out of a total Boston population of 16,000, and Britain removed its troops from the city.
Crowd action in the Boston Tea Party of December 1773 was controlled by the Boston Committee of Correspondence, formed a year before to organize anti-British actions. It was followed by Britain’s Coercive Acts that virtually established martial law in Massachusetts, dissolving the colonial government and closing the port of Boston.
In Virginia, Patrick Henry, a member of the gentry, spoke in words poor whites could understand. And Tom Paine’s Common Sense, a pamphlet published in 1776, also made the first bold argument for independence in relatively simple words. A poor English emigrant to Philadelphia, Paine opposed property qualifications for voting. During the Constitutional Convention, he represented urban artisans, who favored a strong central government, believing that such a government could represent the common interest.
After the military clash between colonial Minutemen and British troops in Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the Continental Congress (established in 1774) decided on separation. The Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson was adopted by the Congress on July 2, 1776, and officially proclaimed two days later.
The second paragraph of the Declaration was a powerful political statement: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government…”
This philosophy, that government is set up by the people to secure their life, liberty, and happiness, and is to be overthrown when it no longer does that, can be traced to the ideas of John Locke, whose Second Treatise on Government was published in England in 1689, when the English were rebelling against tyrannical kings and setting up parliamentary government. Zinn notes that “both documents ignored inequalities in property and the fact that people can’t truly have equal rights with stark differences in wealth.”
Locke was a wealthy man, with investments in the silk and slave trades and income from loans and mortgages. His politically liberal statement of people’s government was in support of a revolution in England for the free development of mercantile capitalism. He regretted that the labor of poor children “is generally lost to the public until they are twelve or fourteen years old,” and suggested that all children over three from families on relief should attend “working schools,” so they would “from infancy be inured to work.”
Like the American Revolution, the English revolution of the 17th century that established parliamentary supremacy and the rule of law mainly benefited men of property. The Levellers and Diggers, two political movements aimed at carrying equality into the economic sphere, were put down by it. Like America in the 1760s, England was racked by riots and strikes – of coal heavers, sawmill workers, hatters, weavers, and sailors – because of the high price of bread and miserable wages.
Some Americans were also clearly omitted from the Declaration’s circle of interest: Indians, black slaves, and women. Four days after the reading of the Declaration from the town hall balcony in Boston, the Boston Committee of Correspondence ordered townsmen to show up on the Common for a military draft, which the rich could avoid by paying for substitutes. This led to rioting and shouting: “Tyranny is tyranny, let it come from whom it may!”
Chapter 5: A Kind of Revolution
General enthusiasm for the war wasn’t strong, and slavery got in the way in the South. South Carolina, for example, needed all its militia to keep slaves under control. In the end, the military became a place of promise to the poor, who might rise in rank, acquire some money, and change their social status. Prominent and substantial citizens served only briefly.
In Connecticut a law was passed requiring military service of all white males between 16 and 60, omitting government officials, ministers, and Yale students and faculty. Service could be avoided if an individual provided a substitute or paid five pounds. Men who avoided service were jailed. Large numbers of reluctant people were forced to associate themselves with the national cause, and by the end of the process many of them believed in it. A chaplain from Massachusetts wrote that there was “great distinction between officers and men” in Washington’s army, in which order was kept by giving 30 to 40 lashes to offenders.
The Americans lost the first battles of the war: Bunker Hill, Brooklyn Heights, and Harlem Heights; won small battles at Trenton and Princeton, and then in a turning point, a big battle at Saratoga, New York in 1777. Washington’s frozen army hung on at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, while Benjamin Franklin negotiated an alliance with France. The war turned to the South, where the British won victory after victory, until the Americans, aided by a large French army, and with the French navy blocking British re-supply and reinforcements, won the final victory of the war at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781.
In the midst of the war, a time of immense profits for some and terrible hardships for others, inflation led to agitation and calls for action. In May 1779, the First Company of Philadelphia Artillery petitioned the Assembly about the troubles of “the middling and poor” and threatened violence against “those who are avariciously intent upon amassing wealth by the destruction of the more virtuous part of the community.” That same month, there was a mass meeting calling for price reductions and an investigation of Robert Morris, a rich Philadelphian accused of withholding food from the market.
In The Social Structure of Revolutionary America Jackson Main estimates that large landowners and merchants, 10% of the population, owned nearly half the wealth of the country and held one-seventh of its people as slaves. Certainly, the Continental Congress that governed the colonies was dominated by rich men, linked by family and business connections. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia was linked with the Adamses of Massachusetts and the Shippens of Philadelphia, and delegates from the middle and southern colonies were connected with Robert Morris of Pennsylvania through commerce and land speculation. Morris was the Congress’s superintendent of finance.
Morris planned to vote half-pay for life to officers who served till the end of the war; there was nothing for the rank and file. On New Year’s Day, 1781, the Pennsylvania troops near Morristown, New Jersey, perhaps emboldened by rum, killed a captain, wounded others, and started marching toward the Congress in Philadelphia. General Washington, fearing the rebellion would spread to his own troops, told General Anthony Wayne not to use force against the rebels, just to get a list of their grievances. He got three months pay for the soldiers from New England bankers, and a peace was negotiated in which half the rebels were discharged and the other half got furloughs.
Shortly after this, a smaller mutiny took place in New Jersey – one hundred men defied their officers and set out for the state capital at Trenton. Washington sent 600 well-fed and -clothed soldiers to surround and disarm the rebels and try the three ringleaders. One was pardoned, and the other two shot by firing squads of their friends, who wept as they pulled the triggers. Two years later, after the war was over and the army had been disbanded, 80 New Jersey veterans invaded Congressional headquarters in Philadelphia demanding their pay and forcing members to flee across the river to Princeton.
The southern lower classes resisted being mobilized to fight one political elite for the benefit of another.
Land confiscated from fleeing Loyalists was distributed to Revolutionary leaders and their friends, with some being given to small farmers to create a broad base of support for the new government. Indeed, this became the characteristic of the new nation: finding itself possessed of enormous wealth, it could create the richest ruling class in history and still have enough for the middle class to act as a buffer between the rich and the dispossessed.
George Washington was the richest man in America, John Hancock was a prosperous Boston merchant, Benjamin Franklin was a wealthy printer, and so on. At the other extreme, there were more slaves and indentured servants than ever. Farmers who enlisted in the Revolution and expected to get something out of it found that, as privates in the army, they received $6.66 a month, while a colonel received $75. They watched government contractors become rich, while the pay they received in continental currency was rendered worthless by inflation.
Most Indians sided with the British in the Revolution. Thousands of slaves were able to seize their freedom, leaving on British ships at war’s end to settle in England, Nova Scotia, the West Indies, or Africa, or staying in America, evading their masters. In 1810, 30,000 blacks, one-fourth of the black population of the North, were still slaves. Thirty years later, this number had been reduced to a thousand.
Historian Charles Beard studied the economic backgrounds and political ideas of the 55 men who gathered at Philadelphia in 1787 to draw up the Constitution. He found that a majority of them were lawyers, that most of them were men of wealth in land, slaves, manufacturing, or shipping, that half of them had money loaned out at interest, and that 40 held government bonds. Thus, most of the framers had a direct economic interest in establishing a strong federal government: the manufacturers needed protective tariffs, the moneylenders wanted to stop the use of paper money to pay off debts, the land speculators wanted protection from the Indians whose lands they invaded, slaveholders needed federal security against slave revolts and runaways, and bondholders wanted a government able to raise money by nationwide taxation.
A strong central government was needed not only to protect large economic interests, but because of fear of rebellion by discontented farmers after Shay’s Rebellion in western Massachusetts in the summer of 1786. The western towns of Massachusetts resented the legislature in Boston, because the new constitution of 1780 had raised the property qualification for voting, and no one could hold state office without being quite wealthy. The legislature was also refusing to issue paper money to make it easier for debt-ridden farmers to pay off their creditors, and there were court proceedings in Northampton and Springfield in Hampshire County to seize the land and cattle of farmers who hadn’t paid their debts. Army veterans, aggrieved because they’d been given certificates for future redemption instead of cash at discharge, began organizing the farmers into squads and companies. The judges had to adjourn, because local militias supported the farmers.
In Rhode Island, debtors took over the legislature and issued paper money. In New Hampshire they surrounded the legislature, asking that taxes be returned and paper money issued, dispersing only when military action was threatened.
Daniel Shays, a poor farm hand from western Massachusetts, had joined the Continental Army, fought at Lexington, Bunker Hill, and Saratoga, and been wounded in action. In 1780, not having been paid, he resigned from the army, went home, and found himself in court for nonpayment of debts. Six years later, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts indicted 11 leaders of the rebellion, including three of Shays’ friends, as “disorderly, riotous, and seditious persons who unlawfully and by force of arms prevented the execution of justice and the laws of the commonwealth.” Shays organized 700 armed farmers, most of them veterans, and led them to Springfield, where the Court would soon be meeting. The judges postponed hearings for a day, then adjourned the court.
In Boston, Sam Adams helped draw up a Riot Act and a resolution suspending habeas corpus, while the legislature agreed that certain taxes could be paid in goods instead of money. When 160 insurgents appeared at the courthouse in Worcester, the sheriff read the Riot Act. The insurgents said they would disperse only if the judges did. The judges left.
Confrontations between farmers and militia now multiplied, and the winter snows began to interfere with farmers traveling to courthouses. When Shays began marching a thousand men to Boston, a blizzard forced them back.They were also outnumbered by an army, paid for by Boston merchants and led by General Benjamin Lincoln. Shays took refuge in Vermont, and his followers began to surrender. Captured rebels were put on trial in Northampton, and twelve were put to death. General Lincoln urged mercy and a Commission of Clemency, but Samuel Adams said, “In monarchy the crime of treason may admit of being pardoned or lightly punished, but the man who dares rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death.” Still, some of the condemned were pardoned. Shays, pardoned in absentia, returned to Massachusetts, where he died, poor and obscure, in 1825.
Alexander Hamilton, an aide to Washington during the war, was one of the most forceful leaders of the new aristocracy. He said: “All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well-born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God, but turbulent and changing, they seldom judge right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government…Can a democratic assembly annually revolving in the mass of the people steadily pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy.” At the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton advocated a president and senate chosen for life.
The Convention didn’t adopt his suggestion. But neither did it provide for popular elections, except in the case of the House of Representatives, where the qualifications were set by the state legislatures. Most of them required property-holding for voting and excluded women, Indians, and blacks. The Constitution provided for senators to be elected by state legislators, for the president to be elected by electors chosen by the state legislators, and for the Supreme Court to be appointed by the president. Zinn also questions how powerful the vote was “if some people had great wealth and influence, if they controlled the land, the money, the newspapers, the church, and the educational system.”
The Constitution was submitted to state conventions, with the approval of nine of the thirteen required to ratify it. In New York, where debate over ratification was intense, a series of newspaper articles submitted anonymously by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay are now known as the Federalist Papers (opponents of the Constitution were known as anti-federalists). Madison, concerned with preserving the current order against those who wanted paper money, an abolition of debts, or an equal division of property, wrote that “factious” leaders would find it difficult to “spread a general conflagration” through the states. “Clearly,” Zinn says, “the Constitution was the work of certain groups trying to maintain their privileges while giving just enough rights and liberties to enough of the people to ensure popular support.”
Madison would join one party – the Democrat-Republicans, along with Jefferson and Monroe, and Hamilton the rival Federalists, along with Washington and Adams. But both the slaveholder from Virginia and the merchant from New York agreed on the aims of the new government. The Constitution was a compromise between the slaveholding interests of the South and the moneyed interests of the North. The northern delegates wanted a majority of Congress to be able to pass laws regulating interstate commerce. The South agreed to this, in return for allowing the slave trade to continue for 20 more years.
“Governments, including the government of the United States, aren’t neutral,” Zinn reminds us. “They represent dominant economic interests, and their constitutions serve those interests.” One-third of the population of the Revolutionary period were small farmers; only 3% were wealthy, with truly large holdings, but this third was a larger base of support for government than anywhere else at the end of the 18th century. Skilled urban workers, who needed protection from foreign competition, also supported the Constitution, especially in New York.
Congress’s power to tax and appropriate money was immediately put to use by Alexander Hamilton, the new Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton proposed a series of laws to Congress, which it enacted. A Bank of the United States was set up as a private partnership between the government and certain banking interests, a tariff was passed to help manufacturers, and it was agreed to pay bondholders (a small group of wealthy people) the full value of their bonds. Congress also passed the Whiskey Tax, which hurt small farmers who converted grain into whiskey to sell. In 1794 the farmers of western Pennsylvania took up arms and rebelled against it, and Hamilton led the troops that put them down.
Chapter 6: The Intimately Oppressed
After the Revolution, none of the new state constitutions granted women the right to vote, except for New Jersey, and it rescinded the right in 1807. Perhaps 90% of the white male population was literate in 1750, but only 40% of the women were, even though women spun at home for the “putting out” system and worked as shopkeepers, innkeepers, bakers, tin workers, brewers, tanners, ropemakers, printers, morticians, staymakers, midwives, and more. In preindustrial America, the practical need for women in a frontier society had produced some measure of equality. Later, women were encouraged to be passive, and their clothing styles – with increased weight, corsets, and petticoats – began to emphasize separation from the world of activity. Now women who could afford it just worked at the home.
Women’s lives were determined by their fathers, husbands, or other male relatives. They couldn’t vote or own property, and when they did work their wages were one-fourth to one-half of what men earned in the same job. Women were excluded from the professions of law and medicine, from higher education, and from the ministry. Samuel Slater introduce the industrial spinning machine in New England in 1789, creating a demand for young girls to work in textile factories, which increased after 1814 when the power loom was introduced. Women, mostly between fifteen and thirty, were 80-90% of the factory operatives. They earned 25 to 40 cents for a twelve to sixteen hour day.
Middle-class women worked as primary-school teachers, wrote for magazines, and started some ladies’ publications. Literacy among women doubled between 1780 and 1840. Women also became health reformers. They formed movements against double standards in sexual behavior and the victimization of prostitutes, and joined the anti-slavery movement. By the time a clear feminist movement emerged in the 1840s, women had become practiced organizers, agitators, and speakers.
In 1821 Emma Willard founded the Troy Female Seminary in New York, the first recognized institution for the education of girls. Dr. Harriet Hunt, a woman physician twice refused entrance to Harvard Medical School, began to practice in 1835. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to get a medical degree in 1849.
The first Women’s Rights Convention was held in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York, the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who had met Lucretia Mott at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Three hundred women and some men came, and a Declaration of Principles was signed by 68 women and 32 men.
Chapter 7: As Long as Grass Grows or Water Runs
In 1790, there were 3,900,000 Americans, most of them living within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean. By 1830, there were 13 million Americans, and by 1840, 4,500,000 of them had crossed the Appalachian Mountains into the Mississippi Valley. In 1820, 120,000 Indians lived east of the Mississippi. By 1844, fewer than 30,000 were left, most of them having been forced to migrate westward.
By the time Jefferson became president in 1800, there were 700,000 white settlers west of the Appalachians. Out-numbering the Indians eight to one, they’d moved into Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois in the north, and Alabama and Mississippi in the south. After Jefferson doubled the size of the nation by purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 – thus extending the western frontier from the Appalachians across the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains – he thought the Indians could move there. He also proposed that Indians be encouraged to abandon their way of life, settle down on small farms, and adopt the ways of “civilization.” In North Carolina rich tracts of land belonging to the Chickasaw Indians were put up for sale, despite the fact that they’d fought for the Revolution and had a treaty guaranteeing their land.
Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief and noted orator, tried to unite the Indians against the white invasion, stating that no tribe had the right to sell land to the intruders since it “belongs to all of us for the use of each.” He also warned that the whites wouldn’t be satisfied till they had all of it.
The Creeks, who occupied most of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, were divided among themselves. Some were willing to adopt the ways of the white man in order to live in peace. Others, insisting on maintaining their culture, were called “Red Sticks.” In 1813 the Red Sticks massacred 250 people at Fort Mims north of Mobile, Alabama. In retaliation, Andrew Jackson’s troops, encouraged to take Indian land and goods, burned down a Creek village, killing men, women, and children. Jackson was a land speculator, merchant, slave trader, and hero of the War of 1812 – a war fought for the expansion of the new nation into Canada and Florida. He became a national hero in 1814 when he fought the Battle of Horseshoe Bend against a thousand Creeks, killing 800 of them with few casualties on his side. Jackson’s white troops had failed in a frontal assault on the Creeks, but the Cherokees with him, promised government friendship if they joined the war, swam the river, came up behind the Creeks, and won the battle. At the end of the war, Jackson got himself appointed treaty commissioner and dictated a treaty that took away half of the Creeks’ land, including land belonging to Creeks who had fought on his side.
From 1814 to 1824, in a series of treaties with the southern Indians, whites took over three-fourths of Alabama and Florida, one third of Tennessee, one-fifth of Georgia and Mississippi, and parts of Kentucky and North Carolina. Jackson played a key role in these treaties, giving friends and relatives appointments as Indian agents, traders, treaty commissioners, surveyors, and land agents. To obtain the treaties, he encouraged whites to move onto Indian lands. He then told the Indians the government couldn’t remove the white settlers and that they’d either have to give them land or be “wiped out.” These land grabs laid the basis for the new slave plantations of the cotton kingdom.
Jackson had brought white settlements to the border of Spanish Florida, where the Seminole Indians – joined by some Red Stick and black slave refugees – lived. Arguing that Florida was a sanctuary for escaped slaves and marauding Indians, he began attacking Indian villages and Spanish forts, beginning the Seminole War of 1818. Finally, in 1819, Spain agreed to sell the territory to the U.S. government, and Jackson was appointed governor.
Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1828, after Jackson was elected president. By this time the two political parties were the Democrats and the Whigs, who disagreed on banks and tariffs, but not on issues affecting poor whites, blacks, and Indians. Some white working people saw Jackson as a hero though, because he opposed what they saw as the rich man’s national bank.
Under Jackson and Martin Van Buren, the man Jackson chose to succeed him, 70,000 Indians living east of the Mississippi were forced westward. As soon as Jackson was elected president, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi began to pass laws to do away with the tribe as a legal unit, outlaw tribal meetings, take away the chiefs’ powers, and make Indians subject to militia duty and state taxes while denying them the right to vote, bring suits, or testify in court. Indian lands were divided up, and whites encouraged to settle on them. Federal laws and treaties gave Congress, not the states, authority over the tribes, but Jackson ignored this and supported state action. The Indians didn’t have to leave, but if they chose to, Jackson promised they would be allowed to live west of the Mississippi “as long as the grass grows or water runs.”
After Jackson’s inauguration in 1829, gold was discovered in Cherokee territory in Georgia. Thousands of whites invaded, destroyed Indian property, and staked out claims. Treaties made under pressure and by deception split Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw tribal lands into individual holdings, making each Indian person a prey to speculators, contractors, and politicians. The Chickasaws sold their land in northeast Mississippi individually at good prices and went west without much suffering, while the Creeks and Choctaws tried to remain on their individual plots. Defrauded of their land and short of money and food, starving Creeks began raiding white farms, while Georgia militia and settlers attacked Indian villages, beginning the Second Creek War.
According to Dale Van Every (The Disinherited), the forces that led to removal didn’t come from the poor white frontiersmen who were neighbors (and often, like Sam Houston and Davy Crockett, friends) of the Indians. They came from industrialization and commerce, the growth of populations, railroads, and cities, the rise in the value of land, and the greed of businessmen. The poor white frontiersman played the role of the pawn in all this – pushed into the first violent encounters, but soon dispensed with.
Cherokees who had migrated westward to Arkansas were soon inundated by white settlers, hunters, and trappers. The eastern Cherokee (three-fourths of the tribe) – 17,000 Indians surrounded by 900,000 whites in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee – tried to adapt to the white man’s world, becoming farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, and owners of property. A census of 1826 showed 22,000 cattle, 7,600 horses, 46,000 swine, 726 looms, 2,488 spinning wheels, 172 wagons, 2,943 plows, 10 saw mills, 31 grist mills, 62 blacksmith shops, 8 cotton machines, and 18 schools (the chief, Sequoyah, invented a written language, which thousands learned). The Cherokees’ newly established Legislative Council voted money for a printing press, which began publishing a newspaper in 1828. The Cherokees owned a thousand black slaves and accepted Christian missionaries.
The North was generally against the Indian Removal bill, but it passed narrowly in 1829. The Choctaws didn’t want to leave, but 50 of their delegates were offered secret bribes of money and land, and the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed. Choctaw land east of the Mississippi was ceded to the United States in return for financial help in leaving, compensation for the property left behind, food for the first year in their new homes, and a guarantee that they would never again be required to move. In 1831, 13,000 Choctaws began the long journey west to a land and climate totally different from what they knew. The army, supposed to organize the trek, turned the job over to private contractors who charged the government as much as possible and gave the Indians little. People died of pneumonia during the winter migration, and there was an epidemic of cholera in Mississippi the following summer. The 7,000 Choctaws left behind chose subjugation over death.
Georgia passed a set of laws taking Cherokee lands, abolishing their government, and prohibiting them from meeting. The Cherokee addressed a memorial to the federal government reminding it of the treaty of 1791 and declaring their wish to remain where they were. When the white missionaries in Cherokee territory said they thought the Cherokee should be allowed to stay, the Georgia militia arrested 13 of them and sentenced two to four years at hard labor. The sentence was appealed to the Supreme Court, and in Worcester v. Georgia, John Marshall, writing for the majority, declared that the Georgia law on which the missionary Worcester was jailed violated the federal treaty with the Cherokees, which, according to the Constitution, was binding on the states. He ordered him freed. Georgia ignored him, and President Jackson refused to enforce the order. Georgia put Cherokee land on sale and moved in militia. The Cherokee followed a policy of nonviolence, even as their property was taken, their homes burned, their schools closed, and their women mistreated.
Jackson’s easy reelection in 1832 suggested that his anti-Indian policies were in keeping with public sentiment, at least among those white males who could vote (2 million of the total population of 13 million). Most of the Choctaws and some of the Cherokees were gone, but there were still 22,000 Creeks in Alabama, 18,000 Cherokees in Georgia, and 5,000 Seminoles in Florida. The Creeks had been reduced to a small area, surrounded by over 300,000 white Alabamians. On the basis of extravagant promises from the federal government, Creek leaders signed the Treaty of Washington, agreeing to removal. They gave up 5 million acres, with the provision that 2 million of these would go to individual Creeks, who could either sell them or remain in Alabama under federal protection.
As Van Every points out, all of the treaties made by the federal government with Indians heretofore had been broken, “but no agreement was so soon abrogated as the 1832 Treaty of Washington.” Within days, a white invasion of Creek land began, and looters, land seekers, defrauders, whiskey sellers, and thugs drove thousands of Creeks from their homes into the swamps and forests. The federal government did nothing but negotiate a new treaty providing for prompt emigration west. The Creeks refused to budge. In 1836, after some attacks by desperate Creeks on white settlers, it was declared that the Creek nation, by making “war,” had forfeited its treaty rights. Fewer than a hundred Creeks had been involved in the so-called war, but a thousand fled into the woods, afraid of white reprisals. An army of 11,000 was sent after them. The Creeks surrendered, and no shots were fired. The men were manacled and chained together to march westward under military guard, their women and children trailing after them. Other Creek communities were invaded by military detachments and the inhabitants marched to assembly points and marched westward with no mention of compensation for their property. By midwinter, the stumbling procession of more than 15,000 Creeks stretched from border to border across Arkansas, with starvation and sickness causing large numbers of deaths.
Eight hundred Creek men had volunteered to help the U.S. army fight the Seminoles in Florida in return for a promise that their families could remain in Alabama, protected by the federal government until the men returned. The promise wasn’t kept. The Creek families were attacked by land-hungry white marauders, robbed, driven from their homes, and their women raped. The army, declaring it was for their safety, removed them from Creek country to a concentration camp on Mobile Bay, where hundreds died from starvation and sickness. When the warriors returned from the Seminole War, they and their families were hustled west, encountering a plague of yellow fever as they moved through New Orleans. When 611 of them crossed the Mississippi on an aged steamer, it sank, and 311 people died.
The Choctaws and Chickasaws had agreed to migrate, the Creeks had to be forced, and the Cherokees were practicing nonviolent resistance. One tribe – the Seminoles – decided to fight. In 1823, the Treaty of Camp Moultrie was signed by a few Seminoles who got large personal landholdings in north Florida, agreeing that all the Seminoles would leave northern Florida and every coastal area and move into the swampy interior. In 1834 Seminole leaders were assembled, and the Indian agent told them they must move west. He managed to get 15 chiefs and subchiefs to sign a removal treaty, the U.S. Senate ratified it, and the War Department began making preparations for the migration.
Osceola, a young Seminole chief who’d been imprisoned and chained by Indian agent Thompson while his wife was sold into slavery, became a leader of the growing resistance. When Thompson ordered the Seminoles, in December 1835, to assemble for the journey, no one came. Instead, the Seminoles in the interior began mounting a series of guerilla attacks on white coastal settlements. They murdered white families, captured slaves, and destroyed property. Osceola shot Thompson and his lieutenant down on the same day that a column of 110 soldiers was attacked and all but three killed.
Congress now appropriated money for a war against the Seminoles. General Winfield Scott took charge, but his columns of troops, marching impressively into Seminole territory, found no one, and the troops suffered from heat, mud, and sickness. In the spring of 1837, Major General Jesup moved in with an army of 10,000, but the Seminoles remained elusive, except for an occasional surprise attack. The war went on for eight years and cost $20 million and 1,500 American lives. In the 1840s, the Seminoles started asking for truces, but every time they came in under a white truce flag, they were arrested. Osceola, seized this way in 1837, ended up dying of fever in prison. The war just petered out with no actual surrender.
Meanwhile, the government was playing Cherokee against Cherokee. In 1834, weary of the struggle, 700 Cherokees agreed to go west, 81 of them, including 45 children, dying en route, mostly from measles and cholera. Those who lived arrived at their destination across the Mississippi in the midst of a cholera epidemic, and half of them died within a year.
In 1836, the remaining Cherokees were summoned to New Echota, Georgia to sign a removal treaty. Fewer than 500 came, but the treaty was signed anyway. The Senate ratified it, Georgia whites stepped up their attacks, and in 1838 President Van Buren ordered Major General Winfield Scott into Cherokee territory to move the Cherokees west by force. 17,000 Cherokees were rounded up and crowded into stockades. On October 1, 1838, the first detachment set out on what became known as the Trail of Tears. As they moved westward, they died of sickness, dehydration, and exposure. Survivors, years later, told of halting at the Mississippi in the middle of winter, the river running full of ice, and hundreds of sick and dying in the wagons or stretched on the ground. During the confinement in the stockades and on the march westward, 4,000 Cherokees died.
Wikipedia on Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) was the seventh president of the United States (1829-1837). Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend (1814), and the British at the Battle of New Orleans (1815). As president he dismantled the Second Bank of the United States and initiated ethnic cleansing and forced relocation of Native American tribes from the Southeast to west of the Mississippi River. His enthusiastic followers created the modern Democratic Party. The 1830–1850 period later became known as the era of Jacksonian democracy.
Jackson was nicknamed “Old Hickory” because of his toughness and aggressive personality. A wealthy slaveholder, he appealed to “common citizens” to support his political battles against what he denounced as a closed, undemocratic aristocracy. He expanded the spoils system during his presidency to strengthen his political base.
Elected president in 1828, Jackson strengthened the power of the presidency, which he saw as spokesman for the entire population, as opposed to Congressmen, each from specific small districts.
Jackson’s parents emigrated from Ireland two years before his birth, landing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and traveling down through the Appalachian Mountains to the Scots-Irish community on the border between North and South Carolina. They brought two children from Ireland, Hugh, 2, and Robert, 1. Three weeks before his birth, Jackson’s father died in an accident.
During the Revolutionary War, Jackson, 13, joined a local militia as a courier. His eldest brother, Hugh, died from heat exhaustion during the Battle of Stono Ferry in 1779, and Jackson and his brother Robert were captured by the British and held as prisoners, nearly starving to death. When Jackson refused to clean the boots of a British officer, the officer slashed at the youth with a sword, leaving Jackson with scars on his left hand and head, as well as an intense hatred for the British. While imprisoned, the brothers contracted smallpox.
Robert Jackson died on April 27, 1781, a few days after their mother Elizabeth secured the brothers’ release. After being assured Andrew would recover, Elizabeth Jackson volunteered to nurse prisoners of war on board two ships in Charleston harbor, where there had been an outbreak of cholera. She soon died from the disease, and Jackson was an orphan at age 14.
After the war, Jackson worked in a saddle-maker’s shop, and taught school and studied law in Salisbury, North Carolina. In 1787 he was admitted to the bar and moved to Jonesborough, in what was then the western part of North Carolina. In 1790, this area became the Southwest Territory, precursor to the state of Tennessee.
Since he was not from a distinguished family, Jackson had to make his career by his own merits; soon he began to prosper in the rough-and-tumble world of frontier law. In 1788, he was appointed solicitor (prosecutor) of the district.
Jackson was elected as a delegate to the Tennessee constitutional convention in 1796, and when Tennessee achieved statehood that year, he was elected its U.S. Representative. The following year, he was elected U.S. Senator as a Democratic-Republican, but he resigned within a year. In 1798, he was appointed a judge of the Tennessee Supreme Court, serving until 1804.
In addition to his legal and political career, Jackson prospered as planter, slave owner, and merchant. He built a home and the first general store in Gallatin, Tennessee in 1803. The next year he acquired the Hermitage, a large plantation in Davidson County, near Nashville whose primary crop was cotton, grown by enslaved workers. Starting with nine slaves, Jackson eventually held as many as 150 slaves at a time.
Jackson became a major land speculator in west Tennessee after negotiating the purchase of Chickasaw tribal land in 1818. The following year, he was one of the investors who founded Memphis.
Jackson was appointed commander of the Tennessee militia in 1801, with the rank of colonel. He defeated the Red Stick Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, Sam Houston and Davy Crockett serving under him. After the victory, Jackson imposed the Treaty of Fort Jackson upon the Creek, securing twenty million acres in present-day Georgia and Alabama for European-American settlement.
When British forces threatened New Orleans during the War of 1812, Jackson took command of the defenses, and in the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815, his 5,000 soldiers won a decisive victory over 7,500 British. Jackson became a national hero, receiving the thanks of Congress and a gold medal.
In December 1817, Jackson received orders from President Monroe to lead a campaign against Seminole and Creek Indians in Georgia. He was also charged with preventing Spanish Florida from becoming a refuge for runaway slaves. Jackson believed the best way to do this was to seize Florida, and the president’s purposely ambiguous orders made the attempt possible.
Jackson easily captured Pensacola, Florida and deposed the Spanish governor. He captured, tried, and executed two British subjects, Robert Ambrister and Alexander Arbuthnot, who had been supplying and advising the Indians. The executions and Jackson’s invasion of territory belonging to Spain, a country with which the U.S. was not at war, created an international incident. When the Spanish minister demanded a “suitable punishment” for Jackson, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, an early believer in manifest destiny, wrote back, “Spain must either place a force in Florida adequate to the protection of her territory or cede to the United States a province, of which she retains nothing but the nominal possession.” Adams used Jackson’s conquest, and Spain’s weakness, to get Spain to cede Florida to the United States by the Adams-Onís Treaty. Jackson was subsequently named Florida’s military governor and served from March 10, 1821, to December 31, 1821.
The Tennessee legislature nominated Jackson for president in 1822, then elected him U.S. Senator again. In 1824 the Democratic-Republican Party, the only functioning national party, ran four presidential candidates: Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford, House Speaker Henry Clay, and Jackson. Jackson received the most popular votes, but not a majority, and four states had no popular ballot. The electoral votes were split four ways, with Jackson having a plurality. Since no candidate received a majority, the election was decided by the House of Representatives, which chose Adams. Jackson supporters denounced this result as a “corrupt bargain,” because Clay gave his state’s support to Adams, who subsequently appointed Clay as Secretary of State.
Jackson resigned from the Senate in October 1825, after the Tennessee legislature nominated him again for president. Jackson attracted Vice President John C. Calhoun and Martin Van Buren into his camp, and the latter revived the old Republican Party, renaming it the Democratic Party. The Jackson coalition handily defeated Adams in 1828.
In 1832 Jackson easily won reelection as the candidate of the Democratic Party against Henry Clay of the National Republican Party. John C. Calhoun, vice president under John Quincy Adams and during part of Jackson’s first term, had resigned over differences with Jackson, and Jackson replaced him with Martin Van Buren of New York.
Jackson succeeded in destroying the national bank by vetoing its 1832 re-charter by Congress and withdrawing U.S. funds. The bank’s money-lending functions were taken over by the local and state banks, increasing credit and speculation.
The nullification or secession crisis of 1828-1832 merged issues of sectional strife with disagreements over tariffs. Southern politicians argued that tariffs benefited northern industrialists at the expense of southern farmers. The issue came to a head when Vice President Calhoun supported the claim of his home state, South Carolina, that it had the right to “nullify” – declare void – the tariff legislation of 1828. Although Jackson sympathized with the South in the tariff debate, he also supported a strong union and effective powers for the central government. Vowing to send troops to South Carolina to enforce the laws, Jackson issued a proclamation against the “nullifiers” in December 1832, stating that he considered “the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one state, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the Constitution, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.” South Carolina, the president declared, stood on “the brink of insurrection and treason.” Jackson also denied the right of secession: “The Constitution forms a government, not a league. To say that any state may at pleasure secede from the Union is to say that the United States is not a nation.”
Jackson asked Congress to pass a “Force Bill” explicitly authorizing the use of military force to enforce the tariff, but its passage was delayed until protectionists led by Clay agreed to a reduced Compromise Tariff. The Force Bill and Compromise Tariff passed on March 1, 1833, and Jackson signed both. The South Carolina Convention then met and rescinded its nullification ordinance. On May 1, 1833, Jackson wrote, “the tariff was only the pretext, and disunion and southern confederacy the real object. The next pretext will be the negro, or slavery question.”