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Chapter 12: The New West and the Free North, 1840-1860

Lecture to accompany the text The American Promise: A History of the United States, Volume I to 1877
by

Jason Holloway

on 22 April 2015

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Transcript of Chapter 12: The New West and the Free North, 1840-1860

The Free Labor model develops to explain economic changes in society.
The Free Labor Ideal is praised by many as representing hard work, self-reliance and independence leading eventually to economic reward.
To sponsor this idea, public education is further advanced to the point that most cities in 1860 have 80% of children 7-13 in school.
The rate of course is much lower in rural areas.
Education then further reinforces these values of hard work blaming limited success on vice and laziness.
2. Free Labor: Promise and Reality
3. The Westward Movement
4. Expansion and the Mexican American War
6. Conclusion: Free Labor, Free Men
Start
1. Economic and Industrial Evolution
The expanding population meant a strong westward movement intensifies in the 1840s.
By 1850 a huge amount of land had been added in the southwest and the Pacific Coasts which contains four million Americans in 1860.
This expansion was costly though, Mexico loses half of its territory and Native American wars will continue another half century.
It is the belief of many Americans that their destiny is to conquer the continent.
The Pursuit of Perfection: Transcendentalists
What major economic developments were ongoing in the 1840s and 1850s?
What major foreign policy issues did the U.S. face and how did they alter American territorial development?
What sort of market place ideals were the north increasingly promoting and what values did these models hold?
What issues did the many reformers of soceity largely choose to focus on?
By the mid-century a divide has formed between an increasingly antagonistic North and South based on different social and economic values so wide that not even a victory in the Mexican-American War can span them.
Chapter 12: The New West and the Free North, 1840-1860
Professor Holloway
Economic benefits during this time are not equal for all, ultimately native born white men advance the most.
Heavy discrimination in opportunities for blacks, women, and immigrants is pervasive.
The Free-Labor Ideal
A group arises in New England called the Transcendentalists that believes people should remove themselves from the materialistic world and escape traditional religion.
Transcendentalism is a form of the romantic movement worldwide and finds Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau as American exemplars of this trend.
Other groups of utopians attempted to found model communities free of society.
These groups are smaller but still express the dissatisfaction that some have in society.
One such group was the Oneida community, which believes marriage is a major societal problem.
This community has economic and sexual communalism which is quite radical at the time but is till very influential.
The foundation of economic growth is still in agriculture.
The Midwest is the biggest reason for this as its settlement is easier due to the relative lack of trees allowing bumper size crops.
Technology also improves, helping agriculture with things such as John Deer's iron plow.
In wheat harvesting, mechanical reapers develop which alongside other upgrades double corn and wheat production.
Federal Land Policy also helps out too as it makes settlement in the territories easier and cheaper so that millions move west to create new states.
In general the U.S. is labor poor and land rich allowing many of these developments.
How does the story of Lincoln's career highlight many of the changes ongoing in this period?
Profound economic changes are ongoing during this time and the economy improves between 1800 and 1840 twelve times.
Urbanization is increasing and 20% of all workers are in factories by 1860.
There is a switch to steam power which makes even more advances possible.
Agriculture is still the most important economic activity and doubles in productivity.
These events are referred to as the Industrial Revolution/Evolution.
Agriculture and Land Policy
Manufacturing and Mechanization
The availability of land meant less people are eager to work in the factories, 80% are still on the farms.
Employers look for ways to save labor as a result.
Mechanization allowed greater production with less labor.
The American system develops out of this background and crucially allows unskilled laborers to produce parts.
Most factories early on still employ only 20 to 30 employees.
All economic enterprises are linked in the country, New England is mainly industrial and produces for the South and West who return in agricultural products.
In Pennsylvania and Ohio coal begins to transform energy demands but still is only 20% of energy use in 1860.
American manufacturers are successful largely due to their focus on the domestic market which is protected by tariffs from superior British goods.
Railroads: Breaking the Bonds of Nature
5. Reforming Self and Society
Railroads capture the imagination of all Americans.
Railroads are critical as they provide rural trade possibilities for cities not near rivers, canals, or the coast.
In 1860, 30,000 miles of railroads link the country more than all the world combined.
2/3 of these are in the North and a few are even beginning to cross the Mississippi.
Railroads quickly make the U.S. the second most powerful industrial nation.
Railroads also benefit auxiliary industries to boom such as iron.
The Telegraph industry also begins after Samuel F.B. Morse creates Morris Code in 1844 allowing safer railroads and much quicker communications between regions.
Railroads are mostly privately owned but benefit heavily from government help as Congress has given away 20 million acres in land by 1860.
Railroads also allow quicker and more easy settlement of the west.
Though benefiting the economy as a whole, most still rely on older methods even in 1875.
Abraham Lincoln's path to success in many ways reflects this westward movement and its economic path to development.
Economic Inequality
The number of vastly wealthy people increases greatly.
All in all most are live most modest lives, 60% of whites own no land as do 90% of free blacks.
Free Labor advocates claim this shows who works hard and who doesn't.
The reality is that limited gains at the bottom can easily be wiped out by any number of chance affairs.
The drive for improvement and motivation from society leads large numbers of rural people to migrate towards the cities.
This further limits social safety network due to the weakening of community ties.
Immigrants and the Free-Labor Ladder
Between 1840 and 1860 4.5 million immigrants come to the U.S.
In 1860 1/8 of the foreign population is foreign born.
Most come from Germany or Ireland in this period.
The Germans, 1.4 million immigrants, were mostly skilled workers and tended to congregate in the Midwest.
The Irish, 1.7 million immigrants, entered at the bottom of labor chain and had difficulties.
The 1845 Potato Blight happens and the Irish flee in droves to the cities of the Northeast.
3/4 of the Irish are laborers, servants, etc.
Most are Catholic contributing to the rapid discrimination against them as they are viewed as hard drinking, half civilized people.
All the same they are hired because they work hard and the wages are cheap.
The Irish make more in a day than in several weeks in Ireland but further potential for advancement is practically non-existent.
These limitations to reality undermine the free labor ideal that others claim is in existence.
Manifest Destiny
Americans believe that their culture and institutions are superior and it is their god given right to expand them.
They see the west as an empty wilderness waiting to be developed and see Native Americans and Mexicans if at all as hindrances to these objectives.
In 1845 a newspaper coins the phrase Manifest Destiny to sum up these ideas and further provide justification for these expansionist desires.
National pride and racial arrogance are important but economic gain is really the core motivation.
The biggest desire of many is to secure a Pacific coast line in order to trade with Asia.
Oregon and the Overland Trade
The biggest original motivation for expansionism is the Oregon country, a region coveted by the British as well.
The Americans and British disagree on their respective claims but originally agree on joint occupation and settlement in 1818.
In the 1830s the Oregon Trail really begins to take off and by the 1840s 1,000 a year are using it.
In 1869 over 350,000 Americans have moved into the Oregon country via this method.
These people encounter many of the Plains Indian tribes, roughly 250,000 strong, who are horse mounted, nomadic, warrior like peoples.
The horse had been brought to the region by the Spanish but had become essential to their lifestyles hunting buffalo.
Conflicts between these tribes over Buffalo populations is extremely common.
The Mormon Exodus
Some groups do not aim for the coast such as the Mormons who seek a remote location to escape persecution.
Joseph Smith Jr. founds Mormonism in 1820 in upstate New York.
Originally he claims to receive visits from an angel that allows him to discover and translate some golden tablets into the Book of Mormon in 1830.
The Book of Mormon essentially tells the story of an ancient Hebrew civilization in the New World.
The Church of Latter-Day Saints founded as a result will win many future converts.
Whites are deeply fearful of these tribes along the Oregon Trail but the Native Americans have much more to fear and lose.
White Americans clamor for protection from the government which motivates them to build a chain of forts across the region.
They also begin a new policy of concentration which will develop into the reservation policy.
The government calls the Fort Laramie Conference in 1851 and have the chiefs agree to various pathways allowing wagon trails.
All the same disputes over land will continue and difficult war will be ongoing for years to come.
Less risky than the Native Americans for these settlers is the length of the 2,000 mile, six month long trip and its difficulties.
When the settlers arrive the territory is seen as enormously productive but its primitive nature ensures an unending amount of work to be done.
Originally neighbors of the Mormon church view it as heretical and chase them from state to state.
After polygamy develops in the church Smith and his brother are jailed in Illinois where a mob storms the prison and kills them both.
The new leader Brigham Young leads a great exodus westward in the aftermath.
In 1846 12,000 Mormons and 3,700 wagons set out finally arriving at the Great Salt Lake in 1847.
Mormons cooperate closely together rather than individually in the new location and quickly make the desert bloom with their sophisticated irrigation works.
The U.S. annexes the Mormon state in 1850 as the Utah territory.
Due to polygamy concerns, which only 1/5 of Mormons practice, the U.S. government invades in the bloodless 1857 Mormon War to establish their authority.
The occupation shows that Mormons are viewed as threats to American values of the time and although the Mormon church is allowed to continue the Utah territory is kept suitably isolated for some time to come.
The Mexican Borderlands
In the southwest white/Anglo settlers begin to encounter Mexican frontiersmen.
Independent Mexico in 1821 has numerous problems and its instability affects its ability to control its borderlands.
Originally American movements into northern Mexico begin with the annual Santa Fe Trail trips to trade.
Soon Stephen F. Austin receives permission to settle on the Brazos River in Texas and bring in outside settlers in the 1820s.
Most of these settlers are Southerners bringing in plantation economics and slavery.
By the 1830s 35,000 Anglos and 8,000 Tejans live in Texas, where the Anglos are Protestant, speak English and do not assimilate.
In 1830 the Mexican government outlaws further Anglo settlement and the Anglos there begin to conceive separation from Mexico.
When General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana seizes power in Mexico the fall of democratic government leads the Texans to rebel.
In early 1836 Santa Ana arrives in Texas with the Mexican Army and the Texans, including Davy Crockett and James Bowie, retreat to the Alamo.
Eventually Santa Ana's 2,000 man army breaks through the walls and kills all 187 rebels.
Shortly thereafter at Goliad, the Mexicans capture and execute 400 men as rebels.
In retaliation the Texans launch a surprise attack at San Jacinto in April of 1836 that overwhelms and captures Santa Ana.
The Lone Star Republic is established in the aftermath of this battle and immediately recognized by the U.S. in 1837.

In California changes in economic administration lead to huge ranchos being formed worked by Native American labor.
Conditions in these ranchos and the displacement in confiscating the missions' territory lead to a huge demographic decline in the Native American population.
Despite these changes only 7,000 settlers are in California including 380 vocal American citizens.
Many deviate from the Oregon Trail during this period to settle in California in the hope that eventually it will follow the Texas plan.
Americans want California and try several times to buy it from Mexico.
In 1846 a revolt starts called the Bear Flag Revolt against the Mexican government at essentially the same time as the Mexican-American War begins.
Nothing is guaranteed about the U.S. annexation of the west, action would be required.
These issues are inherently political as they have internal and external effects.
The U.S. annexes Texas in 1845 setting the stage for war with Mexico that is what many want.
Winning this war means that huge new territories, and very wealthy ones, are added and will quickly gain new settlement.
The Politics of Expansionism
As soon as the Texans win independence they seek admission to the U.S. as their conflict with Mexico continues.
Adding Texas to the U.S. risks war with Mexico but also concerns many as it will become a slave state.
John Tyler takes charge of the presidency after Harrison dies.
Tyler realizes that Texas is a dangerous issue but is eager for expansion and concern over British interest in Texas pushes him into action.
The first attempt to annex Texas fails and ultimately is one of the button topic issues of the election of 1844.
In this election James K. Polk, a democrat, beats Henry Clay by linking the Texas issue with Oregon expansionism harnessing both sides desires.
Clay ultimately backs down and agrees with the annexation loses him support and the election.
Polk's inaugural address further concerns manifest destiny and one month later Texas is added as the 15th slave state.
One of Polk's bigger policies had been 54'40" or fight on the issue of Oregon claims but there is a realization that both the British and the Mexicans cannot be fought at the same time.
Ultimately he negotiates with Britain a clean split at the 49' parallel which most Americans agree is acceptable.
At the same time the Senate approves the treaty war has already begun with Mexico further justifying Polk's approach.
The Mexican-American War, 1846-1848
Polk wanted undisputed territory too in the north of Mexico particularly in the areas of California and New Mexico.
He claimed Mexico could not control them and sought repeatedly to buy them.
Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor to march 4,000 men south from the Nueces River in Texas to the disputed Rio Grande River.
The Mexican commander on the spot attacks the force and provides a casus belli for war.
Polk issues a statement saying that Mexico has attacked U.S. citizens on American soil and Congress declares war.
War seems to some unwise because the American army is only 8,600 strong compared to 30,000 men in the Mexican Army.
112,000 volunteers eventually join up though evening the numerical odds.
Whigs in New England strongly condemn the war from its beginning as a war to expand slavery and its power in the government.
Most Americans however support the war.
Polk personally directs the war where in he plans to occupy northern Mexico, defeat their army several times and have them sue for peace.
Some parts of this strategy works but others do not.
Taylor's army quickly routs the Mexican army near the Rio Grande and forces them to retreat.
American forces likewise quickly occupy California and New Mexico.
Taylor continues further south and occupies Monterrey and then beats Santa Ana at the Battle of Buena Vista with heavy casualties.
The Mexican army retreats in disarray and Taylor holds northern Mexico though his losses in troops have been great.
Most American deaths in this war deal more with subsidiary causes, 11,000 compared with 2,000 actually battle deaths.
Mexican casualties are roughly 50,000.
Victory in Mexico
Polk's strategy founders when Mexico refuses to sue for peace.
The decision is made to conquer and occupy Mexico City to force peace.
This plan is risky because General Winfield Scott will have to land on the coast and march 250 miles inland away from secure resupply and in the face of a larger enemy in their home terrain.
Veracruz is taken by 10,000 Americans in March of 1847 and follow the path of Hernan Cortes to Mexico City.
Santa Ana raises new armies but these fail to stop the invaders.
After the Battle of Chapultepec, Santa Ana is persuaded to abandon the capital which falls on September 14, 1847.
On February 2, 1848 both sides agree to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which cedes territory north of the Rio Grande including California and New Mexico.
The U.S. also pays Mexico 15 million and takes over American citizens' claims against Mexico.
Polk now has all the land he desired, 500,000 square miles more.
This is a huge triumph 75 years after the founding of the U.S. it is now a continental state entering the industrial age with vast new resources and a two ocean economic foundation.
Golden California
Another bad thing for Mexico besides defeat in the war is that gold is discovered in California that will now go to the U.S.
Just before the territory officially changes hands gold is discovered in 1849 starting off the California Gold Rush.
Between 1849 and 1852, 250,000 settlers will come to California.
In merely two years California will become a state.
Gold fever spreads quickly and Californian society is completely altered.
Life in gold towns is largely rough and unpredictable.
By 1853 San Francisco has a population of 50,000 and is dependent on the gold from inland.
Quickly though others arrive to exploit not the gold but the economic needs of the gold miners.
In these places government is not fully in control and vigilante justice reigns with crime rates being quite high.
California as a result of these migrations becomes very diverse and white supremacy doctrines cause problems particularly with the Chinese.
By 1851, 25,000 Chinese live in California and many whites strongly think that they are poor potential citizens due to their culture.
Laws are ultimately passed to exclude the Chinese and others from civil society.
Despite occasional protests against this, problems continue to mount.
Native Americans and Californios are also gradually deprived of their land and status and pushed into the category of unskilled laborers.
The Gold Rush is also really bad for the Native American population which decreases in six years from 150,000 to 25,000.
The Gold Rush creates tons of wealth, in 1852 81 million gold ounces are mined or 50% of world production.
Over time these miners settle down and begin to engage in other occupations.
Trade with the Pacific world is on the minds of many people but distances involved with them and the rest of the United States creates problems.
Most dream of an eventual railroad that will link the two coasts together.
This period also experiences further reforms on a social level.
The ideas of free labor influence concepts of societal ills and their cures.
1/3 of the population belongs to evangelical churches in 1850 but their influence is still wider.
Most believe that the world can be reformed but more radical groups such as the Transcendentalists and Utopians agree to reject competitive, individualistic values of common society.
Other political activists continue pushing abolition of slavery and women's rights.
Women's Rights Activists
Women are heavily represented in reform organizations coming from the church.
The biggest movements are still those for temperance and abolition.
In 1848, 300 meet and are lead by Elizabeth Cady Stanton at Seneca Falls, NY for the first national women's rights conference.
They issue the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments which demands civil liberties for women equal to those of men.
Movements like these help inspire further groups of women and dissatisfaction with the status quo increases though legislative efforts are yet to find any success.
These groups also use free labor ideals to advance women's causes in the workplace as well.
Abolitionists and the American Ideal
In the 1840s and 1850s the abolitionist movement continues to grow.
Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth are some of the big names of this period.
The abolitionists still are confined to a smaller segment of the population but they being to convince most that slavery is wrong even if they still hold blacks as inferior.
They find more success in public support in their positions of limiting slavery's expansion.
Free African-American abolitionists often urge slaves to rise up in their newspapers.
Free blacks in the north represent 2% of the population, 250,000, and face rampant discrimination.
Some look at emigration as an escape but the majority stay and fight the system with limited success.
Many in the north start quickly aiding efforts to undermine slavery.
Harriet Tubman escapes slavery in 1849 and with assistance helps many others to escape along the underground railroad.
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