THE HISTORY
OF THE
UNITED STATES

FROM 1492 TO 1920

BY JULIAN HAWTHORNE

P F COLLIER & SONS COMPANY, NEW YORK 1920

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CHAPTER XXVI
Compromises and the Doctrine (Part 1)

 

 WAR gives rapid development to the stronger traits of a nation, but leaves the subtler qualities in the shade. It is in domestic affairs that these appear. Monroe's Administration was the beginning of that long period of peace for which Jefferson and Madison had hoped, but which they could not obtain. The eyes of the nation now ceased to look outward, defiantly, against a foreign enemy, and were turned upon itself. The interior points of difference or of incompatibility were revealed; they were tested one against the other, and possibilities of reconciliation or compromise were canvassed. Fighting is an exhausting, but comparatively a simple matter; to fashion symmetrically the complicated proportions of a vast body corporate is a far more arduous undertaking, so far as human ingenuity and the resources of political intelligence are concerned. Here was the opportunity for the highest wisdom of statesmanship for temper, patience, and mutual concession. The inherent, brute prosperity-so to say-of the country could not be destroyed by any ordinary folly of the Government; it was a matter of natural resources, which avouched themselves no matter who sat in the National Legislature. The sun would shine, the rain would fall, and the crops would grow, in spite of parties and caucuses; the mills would grind and the looms hum, let Southerner and Northerner bicker never so bitterly; and the beautiful clippers and broad-sailed merchant ships would sweep across the seas without reference to the selfish ambitions of rival officeholders.

One is disposed to say that the country would have been free from broils and perils but for the disputes of its rulers: but this is less than justice. There must be a brain to govern the members, be they never so vigorous and active. The brain may direct amiss, owing either to inexperience or to disease; but a brainless body is unable to coordinate its powers, and is bound to decay. The Government of the United States was designed as sagaciously as that of any nation in history; but it could not be without some flaws, and conditions might arise that human prudence could not foresee, which would create difficulties only to be overcome by many trials, and after many mistakes. The conditions of life on our continent were such that, in order to secure harmony, one part must yield its will and even its temporary prosperity to the other. Which should yield was the question. The predilections of different regions are hard to abate; a man's own welfare and that of his immediate neighbors seem to him of paramount importance. The cultivator of rice fields or tobacco cannot easily enter into the interests of the shipping merchant or the manufacturer; and if they clash with his own, he can hardly be expected to think that it is he that must give way. If the latter points out that moral as well as material considerations are involved, he is apt to be answered with a sneer or a denial; and defiances are exchanged. Degrees of latitude are at the bottom of the quarrel; and in our case they were supplemented by the division of the country into States, each having lively ideas of its own separate rights. The exact point at which State rights ought to give way to national rights was difficult to fix; and, as the world knows, it cost us hundreds of thousands of lives and millions of treasure to decide it. But there was to be a great deal of walking about with the chip on the shoulder; a great deal of arguing and compromising before the limit of peaceable negotiation was reached.

Monroe's election was well received by everyone; it bade fair to heal all animosities. This was due partly to his personal popularity. His record was conspicuous and clear. He was honorable, intelligent, firm, and just; he was the last of the great Revolutionary figures, and he showed a purpose to conduct the affairs of the nation on Washingtonian lines. He was a simple, sincere, shy man, slow but wise in thought, direct in speech and dealings, looking you square in the eye, appealing to your honesty and good will, and inspiring your confidence. He had had an immense experience, and he had constantly educated himself by it; he had reached the summit of human political ambition in this country, and was genuinely desirous to leave his country greater and happier than he had found it. He wished to soften partisan animosities; yet he was a believer in the duties of party; he would not surrender important posts to the keeping of those whose policy was subversive of his own. He was a worshiper of Washington, who had been the personal friend of his youth, and he sought so far as might be to carry out Washington's ideas and observe his methods; but he could not be above party iii the degree that Washington was, because he was not so great a man, and be cause the times were different. On the other hand, Federalism had now no special function to perform; the temperament and ideas which had expressed them selves through it-though, being inherent in human nature, they could not be extirpated-would now find other objects and means. What these'should be had not yet become clear; it was probable that there might be a readjustment all round, and that former opponents would find themselves side by side, and former friends be arrayed against one another. There were no longer in America any French or English sympathizers; there were no longer any reasons why New England should form a separate community. The wish of all alike was to create wealth and comfort; and it did not yet seem impossible that the various parts of the country should cooperate to this common end; each doing its part, and helping out the deficiencies of one another. All were heartily tired of the waste and miseries of war; and exaggerated, perhaps, the capabilities of peace. "Here we are at last, free of the rest of the world; let us turn to and see what we can make of ourselves," was the general feeling. The opportunity had never before offered itself; the sky was cloudless; it was worth while making our hay while the sun shone so warmly.

We are to picture the new President, after his simple and yet rather formal inauguration, bethinking himself that he would journey over the country, as Washington had done, and see the people and let them see him; and judge for himself what this great land was capable of producing and becoming. He would wear his undress military uniform-the old blue and buff and the cocked hat-and look into the eyes of friend and foe alike, and exchange words with them, and prove whether we were not after all very much one at bottom. Men are honest and wellmeaning, on the whole, and will listen to reason, when their susceptibilities and prejudices are not aroused; and a President is always a President. So it was to the North and East that Monroe turned his steps, intent to show his -fellowcitizens who had been Federalists that a Republican President was a creature of like qualities and passions as theirs. He would even spend a quiet afternoon with the famous Josiah Quincy, and chat amicably with the Hartford Conventionists, and even with some of the Blue-Light Federalists, if one could identify those shy wild fowl; let us all be good Americans together!

There might be some who mistrusted the results of this journey; but they were mistaken; it was a success, and the cordiality of Monroe's reception increased as he proceeded. Austere New England turned out to welcome him and do him honor; and the cordiality which he met with in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York found a cordial echo in Hartford and Bos. ton, and as far east as Portland, which was the limit of his tour. He made friends everywhere, and made all feel that he wished to be their friend. He saw a country stirring with industry, and producing good results. It was an era of good feeling:-The phrase became proverbial. The lamb was not afraid of being eaten, and the lion turned out to be fond of vegetables. This first summer was the herald, it seemed, of many happy years. Monroe was delighted to perceive that the desire for a new national brotherhood was strong in the people's hearts. He came home by way of the Lakes, and down through Ohio, finding the same feeling on all sides. It was of good augury both at home and abroad.

Taking up the duties of his office, Monroe found good timber for his Cabinet, and failed not to take advantage of it. The intention to divide the four chief offices among the four sections of the Union could not be fully carried out, because the persons to whom he offered the places were not always, for reasons satisfactory to themselves, willing to accept them. Clay, for example, would not be Secretary of War, because he had wished to be Secretary of State-a position which had been given to John Quincy Adams. Crawford of Georgia consented to be Secretary of the Treasury ; but he was consumed with a desire to be the next President, and spent his time in intriguing against the man who had too much. honored him in asking him to accept any office. Calhoun took the War Secretaryship. William Wirt was a good selection for Attorney General, and Crowninshield of Massachusetts, after holding over for a year from the Madison Administration, retired from the navy oftice in favor of Smith Thompson, a lawyer of New York. The lesser public offices were distributed according to probable merit quite as much as in recognition of political services; the spoils system had not yet been created. Nepotism, which John Adams had inclined to practice, found no countenance from Monroe. But the new appointees were mostly Republicans.

Crawford was a chief center of trouble in the Administration, owing to his selfish and unscrupulous ambition; he was a man of contemptible character and very moderate intellect; but his appearance and manner were suave and imposing, and he had the smooth, insinuating cunning, without the brains, of a Fosco. He lost no opportunity of secretly discrediting the President, for whom he ostensibly manifested the highest regard; and he sought means of setting possible rivals at odds with one another, in order that, while their efforts annulled each other, he could come between, and, like the fox in the fable, steal away the prey for which the bear and the lion had fought. He was the only treacherous man in the Cabinet. Clay was angry with Monroe for having passed him over for the position he coveted, but he was honorable and loyal. He could find in his private grievance ground for discovering errors in the Administration; but he fell into opposition sincerely, and not only in order to make political capital. He was a man of genius, passion, discernment, and resource; but he had the imagination of a poet and the ambition of a politician-an incongruous combination. His eloquence was irresistible in his day, though perhaps it would be less convincing to modern taste; and the delight of exercising this power may have sometimes misled him as to the objects for which it was exercised. There was something wanting in Clay; he was like a scimitar-there was more edge and flash than weight and substance in him. He could not stand foursquare to all the winds that blew; his convictions were rather feminine than masculine. He sometimes showed wonderful political foresight and insight-though, as boxers say, he was not a good judge of distance; he could foretell the outcome of events by a sort of intuition, but could not gauge the rate of progress. He fancied the march of events would keep pace with his own impatience; so that, although he might not be mistaken in principle, his plans would fall short. A singular, fascinating, persuasive man he was, who seemed certain of the Presidency, and yet missed it, not so much by accident, perhaps, as owing to a feeling in the country that he would not be a safe helmsman of the Republic. If he had had less genius, or if he had had more massiveness, his story would have been different. Allowing for many differences, he might be compared in some respects with a smaller man James G. Blaine. It is hard to say why Blaine did not reach the White House; and yet few will be found to declare that they regret his failure. Clay always had the good of the country at heart, however; and was never guilty, as was Crawford, of subordinating the general welfare to his private ends. He wanted to conquer; but it must be with the aid of the angels, not against them; and America will always love his memory.

Congress was full of men of ability, such as Holmes of Maine, Rufus King, William Henry Harrison, Lowndes of South Carolina; but W Webster, destined for so great a career, was at this time practicing law in the East. Europe recognized our increase of power; but Spain alone was disingenuous and hostile in her attitude. Ferdinand inherited the Spanish hatred of all that was free and civilized-iii human institutions, and of America as their foremost representative. But he was secretly conscious of his impotence to carry 'out by overt acts the enmity which consumed him; and since he could not drive us from the continent, or even maintain there his own crumbling and ill-managed possessions, he was willing to engage in negotiations to sell them to us for money. Spain was indeed in sore straits; all her South American states were in revolt on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts; and those would-be republics, inspired by our example in declaring their independence, looked hopefully to us for recognition and even for substantial aid. But though Monroe favored their political emancipation, he was fax too. conservative to run the risk of embroiling this country in a war with Spain, which would really mean a war with European states which could do something more elective than hate and plot; and he contented himself with acknowledging their belligerency, and admitting them to equal commercial privileges. In this he followed the policy of his - predecessor, Madison, under whose Administration, indeed, these questions had come up for consideration. But the great region now called Texas, and the two Florid as, were geographically so situated with respect to the United States, and were the field for such troublesome schemes and enterprises on the part of English, Scotch, and other adventurers and freebooters, that it was difficult to maintain a clear course regarding them. The outlaws were suppressed, and Monroe was careful to observe entire propriety of conduct toward the pretensions of, Spain, no matter how absurd they might be; feeling assured that the districts in question would sooner or later come under our jurisdiction by peaceful means. Spain had no real hold on the Floridas, as was proved by her inability to keep order in those provinces; and . Galveston and Ameba Island were finally occupied as a measure of security, Clay was strongly in favor of taking a bolder stand regarding these matters; but other things were to modify the situation.

On the Appalachicola River there was a fort, which had been built and armed by an Englishman at the end of the late war, and then left, with its munitions, to the local Indians and the negroes; it was known as the Negro Fort, and was an element of danger to the border population. This was ordered to be reduced; and its bombardment resulted in the blowing up of the magazine, by. which two hundred and seventy negroes and Indians out of a garrison of three hundred, including women and children, were killed. An expedition under Colonel Twigg against some so-called Seminole Indians, who were in fact chiefly Creeks, with outlawed fugitives from other tribes, prompted a retaliation, by which a boatload of forty persons were surprised and massacred, the women being scalped and the children murdered by having their brains dashed out against the side of the boat. This called for active measures; and Andrew Jackson, the hero of New Orleans, was the man for the work, and more than ready and able to perform it.

The Seminoles-whose name means wanderers-had no fixed abode, but their fastness was in-the Florida' Everglades; and they claimed that the cession of lands which followed the Creek war was not binding. Of course their position on the borders of American and Spanish territory, and their retreat into the latter when attacked in force, made war against them difficult, if one would avoid all possibility of international complications; but Jackson was the man of .all others who would decline to be bound by spider-web scruples of this kind when his fighting blood was up. It was not for this reason that he had been selected by Monroe for the work; but because Monroe admired and trusted him, and because he was the only soldier in the regionable to command an important expedition. Jackson had fretted under the incubus of Spanish treachery, enmity, and intrigue, and saw plainly enough that they had no business, from a common-sensible and humanitarian point of view, to occupy a province which they ruled evilly when they ruled it at all. Before he received his orders from the War Department he wrote a letter to Monroe, in which he proposed that leave should be given him, unofficially if necessary, to not only chastise the Seminoles, but to wrest the Floridas from Spain. This letter reached Monroe when he was ill; he handed it to Calhoun, who reported it to have relation to the proposed campaign; and Monroe, after asking whether Jackson's orders had been transmitted to him, and being told they had, laid the letter aside unread and forgot about it. But Jackson supposed that its contents were known to the President, and tacitly approved by him; and though his instructions -were explicit in warning him not to commit any act which could be regarded as hostile to Spain, he concluded that he would be safe in following his own plans. His campaign was brief in the extreme, and very moderate in point of bloodshed; but it came very near to involving us in war with England, not to speak of Spain; and its influence on the politics of the United States was unexpected and curious. The Seminoles, upon Jackson's approach with a relatively large army, fled to the Everglades, and were not seen again; but Jackson marched straight into Spanish territory, and demanded and received the surrender of the Spanish post of St. Mares, and later of Pensacola, the Spanish commanders protesting in vain, but attempting no forcible resistance. But in addition to these irregularities, the stern general executed a brace of British subjects whom he captured, one of whom was a young English ex-officer named Ambrister, who was convicted 'by court-martial of having acted as a spy, and the other was an elderly trader of Scotch birth who seemed to have been a plotter with the Seminoles against America. Ambrister was shot, and Arbuthnot, the trader, was hanged; he died declaring that his country would avenge his death; but in this prophecy he was mistaken. The court-martial which condemned Ambrister to be shot afterward modified its verdict to a whipping and imprisonment; but Jackson. restored the original penalty, and it was carried out. Jackson then marched his army back again, and disbanded it.

This was the Seminole War. The Government, on learning the facts, disavowed the acts of its General, so far as they transgressed international law; yet it protected him so far as was possible; and John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, who always stood Jackson's friend, in his dispatches to Spain and England, defended him with great skill and ardor; and so successfully that Spain, having her posts returned to her, decided to say no more about the irregularities, and went on with the negotiations for sale; and England, though Jackson was denounced as a murderer in London, refused to go to war, preferring to disown the acts of Ambrister and Arbuthnot, and to regard them as having forfeited their allegiance before their execution.

But Clay took another view of the matter, and was instrumental in bringing on the Seminole debate in Congress, the object being to pass a resolution condemning the General for his acts-though England and Spain had both professed themselves satisfied. Clay was sincere in his disapproval; nevertheless he was undoubtedly moved to his opinion largely by political considerations; he thought Jackson could easily be suppressed, and quite underrated his popularity in the country. He mane a lifelong enemy of Jackson, and he felt the fatal effects of it later, when Jackson, contrary to all calculation, came into power. He made an eloquent speech; Calhoun and Adams spoke for Jackson; and Congress gave its verdict in favor of the latter. The common people made the warrior their hero, and the division of the country in two new parties was foreshadowed by the terms Jacksonites and anti-Jacksonites, or Democrats and Whigs, which began to be heard at this time. The democratic element in America had indeed begun to be conscious of itself; that lower class of the population which resented more or less obviously the pretensions of the wealthier classes to assume the reins of government. Many of them were recent emigrants, who had known only the despotic rule of European governments, and thought that any government must be despotic, and should be resisted and weakened, or if possible destroyed. Allied with them was that great substratum of humble citizens -who had hardly thought of taking an active hand in the conduct of affairs, but who saw in Jackson a man like unto themselves, without known parentage or place of birth, who had not the less made himself powerful and conspicuous by his unaided talents and original force. Jackson was of Scotch-Irish blood, and had the Celtic temperament well developed; in temper, principles, and habits of thought he was thoroughly of the people; he believed in no friendship that was, not personal to himself, without regard to rights or wrongs of policy; he wore his heart upon his sleeve, was easily flattered,was rude and headlong in speech, fiery in temper, and implacable so long as his self-esteem was touched. Yet lie was less unable than he seemed to exercise a certain dissimulation and shrewdness, and would enter into any scheme that was not plainly dishonest to undo an opponent. His outward bearing and aspect had how ever been a good deal modified by success and fame, and he was a much more possible person in polite so ciety than he had originally been. He had the Celtic chivalry toward women, and was a favorite with them; and his unquestionable genius and force of character made him influential with men who were far abovehim in education and social station. It was right and inevitable that such a man should exist and come to the front in our country; he represented much that is vital in us, and will always have its due weight. The memory of him can never be eradicated from among us; Jacksonian democracy means as much to-day as it did ninety years ago. He was markedly different from Jefferson, the Democrat of the aristocracy; he was made of fewer elements and was of almost infinitely simpler structure; but his effect in the American world was hardly less pronounced. Just such another individual can never appear again; but that which he represented can never die out of our population; it disregards or tramples upon precedent and traditions, sees the essential point, and grasps it, fears nothing, and astonishes all orthodox and conventional folks; while its success, once it sets itself to gain an object, surpasses all anticipation and record. It has many faults, but its virtues are immense; and for a time it is the death of humbug and pretense of all kinds.

After his vindication, during the progress of which he had been a violently interested attendant at Washington, and had nearly got into several duels and affrays, he started on a sort of triumphal tour of the country, and was received with popular enthusiasm of the most unmistakable kind. The patricians might slight him, but he had the masses with him, and perceived no deficiency in his welcome; indeed, those who held themselves aloof were very careful not to do so in openly offensive manner; for it had become evident that Jackson was not a man to be insulted with impunity. No one at that time, probably, had serious thoughts of him as a Presidential possibility; he might even have laughed at the idea himself; for the elegance and austere correctness of the Washingtonian tradition still hung about the chief office of the Government; but things were beginning to move fast in America, and opinion was dividing and expanding in a way that already made nothing seem quite impossible.-Meanwhile, in 1819, the treaty ceding Florida to the United States was signed, and the money, five million dollars, paid to Spain; and common opinion connected the transaction with Jackson's campaign, and gave him the credit of it. When 'a man has once begun to be the popular idol, whatever happens seems to make his pedestal a little higher.

The internal affairs of the country had seemed to be in a most favorable condition; but the appearance was to some extent deceptive, due to ignorance of the real causes which were at work. There was a surplus in the Treasury after setting aside a certain amount for paying the interest and an installment of the principal of the public debt. Some taxes were repealed rather prematurely. Commerce was diminished by the great inrush of foreign commodities; and the policy of protecting infant industries, concerning which we have heard so much ever since, already was under consideration, Clay being prominent among its advocates. The attempt to bring about a reciprocal repeal of discriminating duties with Europe was not very successful. But if commerce was falling off, agriculture was doing well, and manufactures were showing an immense stimulus, especially in New England, which found here a recompense for the decline of her maritime pros-. perity. In the absence of strongly marked issues, the Republican party was subsiding as a distinct phenomenon, not because it had been defeated, but because its triumph had been so general. It had brought the nation to a realization of itself and had cut it loose from Europe; and now, almost every one being a Republican, the time was at hand for them to subdivide into other things. But what these were to be was still a secret of destiny.

The most remarkable went of 1817 was the beginning of the Erie Canal, which had long been a pet project of De Witt Clinton, and is due to his persistence and energy; it was the most wonderful enterprise of the kind yet undertaken, and was of immense benefit in opening the country and creating flourishing towns in the interior. Other national improvements were withheld on account of the doubt as to how they were to be carried out with due regard to the Constitution; and discussions on this point led, not to amendments, but to stretching the letter of the Constitution in order to make it cover cases which were assumed to accord with its spirit. This was a dangerous precedent, for there was no line to be drawn; but it prevailed for sixty years.-In Massachusetts and in Connecticut changes of political conditions occurred, tending to emancipate these States from the influence of the old regime. The campaign in Connecticut was especially picturesque, old John Cotton Smith being defeated after a tremendous contest, with all the antiquated ways and opinions which he) stood for. In this fight religious. heretics joined the Republicans and swept the State.

Monroe's first term was remarkable for the increase in colleges which took place during the four years; the greatest novelty among them was a female college founded at Troy, New York, by Mrs. Willard. Missionary and Bible Societies had already been started; Lundy's Anti-Slavery Association had existed since 1815. A new departure of a different kind was the first crossing of the Atlantic by a steam vessel, the ,Savannah, in the year 1819. Four new States were addmatted to the Union from 1818 to 1820 inclusive Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, and Maine: but thereby hangs a tale. In the meanwhile the flush of prosperity had been succeeded by a couple of years of financial panic.

The proximate cause of this was the proceedings of the United States Bank. It was discovered that this institution had been mismanaged to such a degree that no one could tell where the bottom of the defalcation would be found. Many of the branches were joined in the trouble, especially that in Baltimore, a town which for some years had seemed to rise on the top wave of financial success. The rumors were followed by wholesale resignations of bank directors; and a Congressional Committee was appointed to make a thorough investigation. Spencer, an able young lawyer, was put at the head of the committee, and he worked with great industry, and without respect of consequences. His report showed a vast mass of iniquities, the result in some cases of ignorance, but mostly of deliberate dishonesty. The evil spread over all the States, except those of New England, which had maintained a specie basis. The question was, whether to stop the bank, or to remodel it; the latter course was taken. Men of tried integrity and knowledge were put at the head of the business, and their efforts pres ently cleared up the situation, and showed that within a few years the bank would be on its feet again. Langdon Cheves was made president, and the chief director was Nicholas Biddle. The investigation had created many bitter enmities; but it had served as a warning and an enlightenment to the community, and the mania for speculation, encouraged by the paper system, was not likely to be soon repeated.

Continue to Chapter 26 Part 2


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