Thursday, 1 March 2018

'A House Divided' (1)

The United States in 1819
Public domain

The Missouri Compromise (1820)

Even before the rise of the abolitionists, the question of slavery was a dominant concern. As a result of the North-West Ordinance and the pattern of migration, new states were coming into the Union. Ohio (1803), Indiana (1816), and Illinois (1818) were carved out of the old North-West territory, and they had been set up as free states. The South had balanced this with the creation of Louisiana (1812), Mississippi (1817), and Alabama (1819) so that by 1819 the country had an equal number of free and slave states, eleven of each. 

In 1819 the House of Representatives was asked to approve legislation enabling Missouri Territory to draft a state constitution, its population having passed the minimum of 60,000. In the westward rush of population, settlers had flocked to the area, through the old French town of St Louis and then on to the Mississippi. Most of these settlers came from the South so that the territory now had 10,000 slaves.  From December 1819 to March 1820 the House fiercely debated the terms on which Missouri should be given the status of a state. Congressman James Tallmadge of New York proposed that Missouri only be admitted as a state if it undertook to forbid further slave immigration and to provide freedom at the age of twenty-five for those born after admission.  This was passionately opposed by the Southern states. Senator William Pinkney of Maryland  argued that the new states should have the same freedom as the original thirteen, and be thus free to choose slavery if they wished. 

Eventually, in February 1820 Congress accepted the compromise
Henry Clay
'The Great Pacifier'
proposed by the Speaker of the House Henry Clay
The Missouri Compromise decreed that in future slavery would be excluded from all parts of the Louisiana Purchase north of latitude 360 30/apart from Missouri. At the same time Maine would be admitted to the Union as a free state. The Compromise was signed by President Monroe on 6 March. On 10 August1821 Missouri was admitted as the twenty-fourth state.

The Missouri Compromise won for Clay the title of the Great Pacifier. It can be seen as a squalid deal, but it can also be argued that it postponed the war for a generation. Thomas Jefferson wrote: 

‘This momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.’

The Nullification Crisis, 1828-33

As early as the 1820s parts of the South were teetering on the brink of secession. In 1828, during the presidency of John Quincy Adams, Congress introduced a new tariff imposing heavy duties on British imports. This was a populist move to aid the presidential candidacy of Andrew Jackson, but it was denounced by the southern politicians, who called it the Tariff of Abominations. They argued that it was a threat not merely to the economy of the South but to slavery itself. The Vice-President, John C. Calhoun, returned to his South Carolina plantation to write his ‘South Carolina Exposition and Protest’, in which he proposed the theory of a concurrent majority through the doctrine of nullification—
‘the right of a State to interpose, in the last resort, in order to arrest an unconstitutional act of the General Government, within its limits’. 
As a last resort, therefore, a state had the right to secede. His position was opposed by his fellow-southerner, James Madison, who argued that no state had the right to nullify federal law.
John C. Calhoun

In November 1832 South Carolina ‘nullified’ the tariff and refused to allow US customs officials to enforce it within state boundaries. In December Jackson proclaimed this to be treason, and threatened a march on the state. Once again Henry Clay pushed forward a compromise, and a much-reduced tariff was adopted in March 1833. But with nullification dead, the only option remained secession as a weapon in some future crisis. 


During the eighteenth century the Spaniards began to colonise Texas and from 1716 Spain established missions in the settlements of San Antonio, Goliad, and Nacodoches.  In 1821 Mexico won its independence from Spain, and Mexican Texas became part of the new nation. At the same time Stephen F. Austina Missouri
Stephen F. Austin
the 'Father of Texas'
Image courtesy of Texas State
Library and Archives Commission
resident, started a colony on the lower Brazos River, which was ratified by a grant from the Mexican emperor in 1823.  By 1824 the colony numbered more than 2,000 settlers.  However, in 1823 the Mexican emperor was overthrown and replaced by a republic. The land grant was annulled, but Texas was thinly populated and soon the new government encouraged American settlers, many of them in search of gold, into the area. Texas was rapidly turning into an American province. The coastal region had about 20,000 white settlers and 1,000 black slaves.  

In 1830 the Mexican government became alarmed at this development and forbade further emigration into Texas from the United States, though the border proved impossible to police.  In 1833 Antonio L√≥pez de Santa Annawho was to style himself ‘the Napoleon of the West’, was elected President. In 1834 he abolished the federal system and became a dictator. The stage was set for a series of clashes between Mexicans and ‘Anglos’, also known as 'Texians'. 

General Santa Anna
On 2 October 1835 the long-simmering conflict erupted when a fight took place between the Texian and Mexican armies at Gonzales. Mexican soldiers came to retrieve the cannon they had given the Texians for protection against Indian attacks. When the Mexicans tried to repossess it, the Texians unfurled a battle flag that said ‘Come and take it!’ 

The ‘come and take it’ cannon of the Battle of Gonzales o
of the Texas Revolution
on display at the Gonzales Memorial Museum,
Gonzales, Texas.

The Texas Declaration
of Independence
The Declaration of Independence: On 2 March 1836 at Washington-on-the Brazosthe Texians signed their Declaration of Independence from Mexico and named Sam Houston, former Governor of Tennessee, as their commander-in-chief. But Santa Anna was already approaching with an army to suppress them. 

The Alamo: Facing Santa Anna was a garrison of about a hundred, holed up behind the adobe walls of the Alamo, an abandoned Spanish mission in the town of San Antonio de Bexar.  From mid-February they had been defended by reinforcements led by William B. Travis,  a young regular soldier from South Carolina.

The Alamo, depicted in 1854

He faced a formidable task. The Alamo was a difficult site to defend, consisting of three acres of single-storey adobe buildings grouped round a central plaza. The wall was incomplete and there were no loopholes from which to fire. His problem was compounded when
Davy Crockett
'King of the wild Frontier'
the volunteers refused to serve under him, electing instead the Kentucky-born, hard-drinking knife-fighter, James Bowie 
as their leader. In the end, it was agreed that the two men should be joint commanders. Then Bowie fell ill (pneumonia or TB), leaving Travis in command. The defenders included Davy Crockettthe forty-nine-year-old legendary frontiersman and a former member of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

On 23 February 1,400 Mexicans under Santa Anna marched into San Antonio de Bexar. The thirteen-day siege of the Alamo had begun. In the early hours of 6 March the Mexicans advanced on the Alamo. Between 182 and 257 Texians died, Davy Crockett among them, and around 600 Mexicans were killed or wounded.

The Battle of San Jacinto: On 21 April 1836 General Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto in a fight that lasted eighteen minutes. The battle-cry was ‘Remember the Alamo’. After the battle the Mexicans were expelled from Texas.

Sam Houston
victor of San Jacinto
President of the Lone Star Republic

Meanwhile the settlers had set up the Republic of Texas on 1 March. In October Sam Houston was elected the first President of the Lone Star Republic,  defeating Stephen F. Austin with a landslide 79 per cent of the vote. On the last day of his presidency, 3 March 1837, Andrew Jackson, an old frontier friend of Houston's, recognised Texan independence. 

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