The U.S. Expansion to the Pacific

The U.S. Expansion to the Pacific – Slavery and Abolitionism (1840 – 1861)

Northern America

The United States was in a singular situation: it had no precise borders either to the north (except for the part bordering on the great lakes and San Lorenzo), or to the south or to the west. Indeed, compared to Mexico, still Spanish in 1819, at the time of the acquisition of Florida, the borders had been summarily indicated in the relative diplomatic instrument: starting from the Pacific, north of Alta California, the border had to coincide with the 42nd parallel up to eastern limit of the Rocky Mountains, descend along the 106th meridian to the headwaters of Arkansas, follow its course up to the 100th meridian to descend with the Red River and the Sabine River to the Gulf of Mexico. They included, therefore, in Mexico, independent from 1821, what would later be the states of Texas, a part of Colorado and Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California. But could the irresistible westward march stop in front of the shady frontiers marked in a fragile diplomatic tool? This was all the less likely since these regions, under nominal Mexican sovereignty, did not yet know the footprint of white colonization; were in fact, around 1840, terra nullius, with few and wandering residents. Other than one: Texas. Here the settlers, about 70,000, were for a good 50,000 represented by Anglo-Saxon Americans who had recently come from across the border. It was not possible that these, jealous of their national individuality, Protestants of the various confessions, used to the representative government, tolerated the protection of the Mexican Catholic province of Cohahuila. In fact, on March 2, 1836, Texas had proclaimed itself an independent state and as such had been recognized by England and France. But, looking a little further, it could not be doubted that independence represented a provisional situation, destined to give way to annexation to the United States. This was the desire of the residents and the program of the Whigs who came to power and of President John Tyler (1841-45) who succeeded Harrison, who died after just one month of presidency, for his functions as vice president. Determined annexationists were the slave and cotton states (the two terms are inseparable) of the south: because Texas offered endless new possibilities for plantation crops; because slavery was rooted there; because the entry into the union of a new slave state would have strengthened the position of slavery, bringing, after the entry of Arkansas the slaveholder (1836) and the free Michigan state (1837) to 14 slave states against 13 free. To induce the north to tolerate this new influx of slavery into the body of the union, the cotton states proposed a compensation: the annexation of Oregon, that is, of that territory under the nominal Anglo-American condominium that extended along the Pacific, north of the 42nd parallel. These were not acts of usurpation, the annexationists alleged, but of recoveries. Wasn’t Texas once included in Louisiana, later ceded by Spain? And in Oregon, hadn’t American colonization preceded the Anglo-Canadian one? Byzantine issues. In fact, the annexationist tendency, intolerant of legal delays and quibbles, triumphed with the victory of the Democrats in the presidential elections of 1844. On March 4, 1845 James Polk (1845-49) assumed the presidency; but four days earlier Congress had already decided to welcome Texas into the Union. This did not necessarily mean war with Mexico. Indeed, Congress hoped to avoid it and, consistent with his mercantile mentality which had made an excellent test on other occasions, he intended to rectify the fait accompli with a regular purchase in hard cash and also include in the deal New Mexico and California, to which, for some time, the ‘Englishmen seemed to devote a particular interest. This suspicion was enough for the Monroe doctrine, which had almost fallen into oblivion from the time of Jackson onwards, to re-emerge in the United States in 1845. But the commercial transaction failed. One of the many revolutions brought an uncompromising government to power in Mexico. Disputes arose over the western borders of Texas: Río Nueces, as the Mexicans wanted, or Río Grande del Norte, as the Americans claimed? In January 1846, the Washington government pushed its troops to the Río Grande; and on May 13 he declared war, taking the pretext of a skirmish which had taken place a few weeks earlier and for which the Mexicans were responsible. In the year and a half that the war lasted, the Union soldiers went from success to success; even where they were outnumbered, they always snatched victory: Monterey, Palo Alto, Buena Vista. The conclusion of the war, more than the occupation of New Mexico, Arizona, California, was marked by the expedition to Vera Cruz and to the capital, Mexico, which surrendered on September 17, 1847. With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, of 3 February 1848, Mexico ceded an immense territory to the United States: in addition to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Upper California (ie the current state of California). During the war, by direct agreement with England (June 15, 1846), the question of Oregon was also favorably resolved, which was annexed up to the 49th parallel, henceforth the border between the United States and Canada up to Puget Sound, whence it descends to the Pacific, leaving Vancouver Island to Canada. With 1848 the United States reached, therefore, the continental borders which they still have today. An addition came only for the Gadsden treaty (December 30, 1853), for which a strip of territory (currently the southern part of Arizona) was purchased from Mexico, important for the purposes of railway communications between Texas and southern California. This expansion of the Union from the Atlantic to the Pacific was to lead the federal government to worry about communications between the two oceans by the shortest route. Hence, already during the war with Mexico, the United States set their eyes on the Isthmus of Panama, a thin diaphragm which, engraved by a canal, could assume capital importance; therefore, in 1846, they signed a treaty with Colombia, which guaranteed Americans free passage through the isthmus while ensuring American protection for Colombia. And when, two years later, the British, from their possession of Honduras, seemed to want to extend at Nicaragua’s expense to another sensitive point for interoceanic communications, the Americans persuaded them to renounce these plans by calling them to participate in the rights they had. acquired on the Isthmus of Panama (Clayton-Bulwer agreements, 1850).

With respect to the question of slavery, the new recent acquisitions represented an unknown factor; for it was generally accepted that the Missouri compromise could only be applied in regions ceded under the collective name of Louisiana. But the Texas slaveholder had been admitted; and in the same year of 1845 the Florida slaver was also raised to the rank of state. Only in 1846 Iowa and in 1849 Wisconsin restored equilibrium. It is true that, while the war with Mexico was still going on, a Democratic member of Congress, David Wilmot of Pennsylvania, had tried to predetermine the future fate of the new lands with regard to slavery with a federal law: he had proposed a clause (Wilmot Proviso, 1846) for which slavery had to be abolished in the newly acquired territories. But Congress had adjourned before voting on the clause and the new lands had entered the union virgin of any mortgage on the matter. Although, in the 1848 election campaign for the presidency, which saw the victory of the Whigs with their candidate Zachary Taylor (1849-50), the hero of Buena Vista, the burning question was not brought to the fore – it was posed and without luck from a third party called Free Soil – however it existed and demanded, sooner or later, a radical solution. Here in 1849 California, having given itself a “free” constitution (ie prohibiting slavery), asking to be admitted as a state, without having to go through the territory’s adventitiate. Discovered thecalifornia). Public order left a lot to be desired; this too recommended the prompt recognition of California as a state. But the slave and cotton south rose up, protesting and threatening; for not only did he see that labored balance upset in favor of free states, but feared that California’s admission could set a precedent for all territories and states to which the Missouri compromise did not apply. Once again the spirit of accommodation prevailed, hopes old Henry Clay; the Omnibus Bill in 1850 he admitted California, but excluded that the Wilmot Proviso principles could be applied to the rest of the immense territory ceded by Mexico, matrix of future states. But it was not even said which principles should be applied to them. The federal constitution was silent on slavery; and since what was not expressly referred to the federal powers entered the exclusive competence of the states, it was deduced that slavery fell within this competence. But the territories? The territories were constituted and organized by Congress, they were a federal condominium. If slavery was allowed there, it would have been difficult to eradicate it once the territory had risen to the rank of state; but it would have been even more difficult to introduce it to that state if it had ignored it when it was still territory. Now the southern slave states were not unaware that, with the exception of Texas, most of the new acquisitions – as the case of California proved – did not lend themselves to those crops that gave rise to slavery due to their physical constitution. It was therefore foreseeable that the numerous states that would emerge from the recent acquisitions would be “free” and would aggravate the imbalance to the detriment of the slave states. It may well have been the day when free states were in Congress with such an overwhelming majority as to enforce, by federal law, an amendment to the constitution, the abolition of slavery in the southern states. To fight this danger in time, the slavers saw a remedy in the annexation of other lands, predisposed for conditions of climate and soil cultivation to slavery and cast their eyes on Cuba and the weak republics of Central America. The new Democrat President Franklin Pierce (1853-57; Taylor, who died July 1850, was succeeded by Vice President M. Fillmore, 1850-53) is in their favor. The federal government does not repress the too frequent coups of freebooters, who pose as late imitators of Jackson: such as the one on Cuba in 1851, as well as those replicated by William Walker, an adventurer from Tennessee, on Nicaragua and Honduras between 1855 -60. Indeed he tolerates that (1854), in a moment of tension with Spain, responsible men such as the ministers of the United States in France, England and Spain, meeting in Ostend, publish a manifesto with threats to Spain if,

The motives that brought slave and anti-slaveholders into such a sharp contrast were not motives of an economic nature alone, nor merely of a moral nature; although it can be said that the former prevailed among the supporters of slavery, the latter among the opponents. In the last twenty years a wave of humanitarianism had spread among the urban bourgeoisie of the north, especially of certain religious denominations (Methodists, Quakers, etc.); charitable institutions had arisen, improved treatment of debtors, military discipline, projects for world peace, ideas of universal brotherhood, freedom of peoples (sympathies towards the Hungarians and Italians had been strong in 1848), the struggle against ‘alcoholism; and, for consistency, the liberation of slaves, the abolition of slavery. It’s always easy to be generous with other people’s stuff; in the north the Negroes were few and they were free; and the abolition was intended without indemnity to the owners. In 1831 an abolitionist fanatic, WL Garrison, had begun publishing his in Boston Liberator, so excessive that he found those who disagreed with him even in the north. But the adherents increased; financial means flowed into the abolitionist cause, colleges and schools were opened for Negroes, abolitionist societies were formed (in 1840 they already had more than 150,000 members), funds were set up to make slaves flee, ties were established with similar English societies, boasted foreign sympathies (Ch. Dickens, for example), the matter was stirred up in pamphlets, newspapers, novels (the famous Uncle Tom’s Cabin by H. Beecher Stowe is from 1852), it was envisaged as a moral imperative; it was asserted that the nation could not advance on the paths of civil progress as long as one sixth of the population was held in slavery, under the weight of forced labor which ruthlessly competed with the free labor of the Whites. All this complex of ideas and feelings was reflected in the legislation of the northern states. While secret associations such as UG (Under Ground Railroad) provided to smuggle the fugitive slaves from the slave states to Canada, the free states put up a thousand procedural obstacles to make it difficult, if not impossible, for the owners to get back the fugitives who escaped in free states; for the slave, even in a free state, remained a “thing” that had to be returned to its rightful owner. Another language was spoken by the supporters of the maintenance of slavery. Faced with this crusade, conducted in the name of high ideal principles, it was not easy for them to cling to other principles of the same strength. Necessarily, they had to resort to arguments of a practical-political nature; arguments that made slavers accuse the slavers of inhuman and selfish. The principles were fine, the slaveholders objected; but, aside from the purely economic question of labor, one had to come to the south to get to know the Negroes closely. Out of 100 Whites there were 59 Negroes in the southern states in 1850; and in the cotton states, the proportion rose to 89 Negroes against 100 Whites; in some states, such as South Carolina, the black population outnumbered the white. It was easy for the Northerners to talk about abolitionism, they counted on their soil just one free Negro in front of 100 Whites. But abolishing slavery in the south, equating the Negro with the White in civil and political rights meant challenging the public conscience which saw the Negro as an inferior being, worthy of pity, generally well treated too, but always inferior; it meant unleashing a struggle of races. Alongside these deeply ingrained feelings of instinctive revulsion, abolitionism would harm and destroy formidable interests. The black slaves represented an enormous capital; a young slave, fit for work, cost about $ 500 in 1832, $ 1300 in 1836 to rise to $ 1500 or more in the next five decades. To abolish slavery with a stroke of the pen meant ruining the southern states; and not only a few very wealthy landowners, but very many middle and small owners who owned a few slaves or a little more (in 1850 in the southern states 73% of the owners owned no more than 9 slaves; 24% from 10 to 50 slaves and only 3% more than 50 slaves). For the great majority, abolition meant being reduced to the rank of those proletarians poor Whites which were already too numerous in the south. And this in years when the highest product of the south, cotton, fell tremendously in price, while the industrial products of the north rose and in 1850 the value of their export exceeded for the first time that of the export of agricultural products. The men of the south, already prejudiced against the north which had imposed customs tariffs for its own profit, accused him of conspiring against the south to ruin it and were not willing to allow himself to be sacrificed to shameful humanitarians without strenuous resistance. Even at the cost of separating from the Union. Among these extreme positions of abolitionists and slavers, there had been a place for tendencies of compromise, especially solicitous to save the Federal Union. But after 1850, every transaction becomes more difficult and precarious. On the one hand, the abolitionists intensify the struggle, they make themselves strong in their ideal position that the slaveholders can only contest with reasons of expediency, they proclaim that the Union can only live on condition that the stain of slavery that dishonors it is washed away. face the world; on the other hand, the slaveholders understand that, if they do not run for cover, the rapid development of the Union and the establishment of new states in the north will put them in a dead end situation. It is clear to both parties that the Union will resist only if it is either wholly abolitionist or wholly, at least in law, slaver. The slaveholders go on the offensive: that will lose them. The first step is to repeal the Missouri compromise. In 1853 SA Douglas, Democratic Senator from Illinois (d ‘ sovereignty squatters). The proposal was approved by Congress (January 23, 1854). This implicitly led to the abolition of the Missouri compromise and to the acceptance of slavery even in hitherto free regions.

The law unleashed a wave of indignation in the north. The Anti-Nebraska Men, including not so much the fanatical abolitionists as the large mass who had hoped to save the Union and avoid civil war by rejecting radical solutions, finally convinced themselves that the time for compromises had passed: in July 1854, they laid the foundations for the new republican party bluntly abolitionist. The two parties opposed each other in the presidential elections of 1856: the Democrats and their candidate James Buchanan (1857-61) prevailed once again, and the last was; but it was a sweaty victory, although the new republican party had not yet perfected its organization, and a victory due to the loyalty of the northern democrats who were not convinced slaveholders, but did not want to break the party ties and interests with the south. The Democrats, however, felt that the next election would perhaps be defeat; and yet, if they failed to prevent the entry into the union of two new free states, Minnesota (1858) and Oregon (1859), they allowed themselves to play with audacity, challenging the laws with the almost ostentatious trafficking of slaves; getting right before the Supreme Court in sensational debates concerning runaway slaves (Dred Scott affair, 1857); sponsoring, with the illegal constitution of Lecompton (September 1857), the admission of Kansas as a slave state. In 1858 the senatorial elections in Illinois rose to national importance because they were opposed by the Democratic leader Douglas and Republican Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln succumbed by a few votes; but in the long campaign it imposed itself on the attention of the nation, forcing, with a tight dialectic, the adversary to unmask the weak and contradictory points of the democratic program, which, while granting the territory the right to institute or abolish slavery, contested this same right to the Congress that created the territory.

The U.S. Expansion to the Pacific