Manifest Destiny

William Henry Harrison took office, 1841; only served one month. Was oldest President at that time; delivered longest inaugural address in cold, wet weather; caught cold. Office seekers who constantly pestered him drained all his strength, and he died exactly one month after having taken office. Before his death, he had appointed Daniel Webster as Secretary of State; Henry Clay was rather petulant about not winning the nomination, and decided to stay in the Senate; as a result, he saw the Cabinet filled with his friends.

John Tyler became first Vice President to become President. Tyler was Whig in name only, and had been added to the ticket only to balance it out; help Harrison win election. He was never expected to be anything but a vote-getter. He was opposed to Clay’s American system.

Reminder: American System was: protective tariffs; national bank, internal improvements at national expense.

Once when asked his definition of nationalism, Tyler replied "I have no such word in my political vocabulary." He had been a Democrat, but differed with Jackson on the nullification issue, and Jackson’s use of executive authority. He was a true "old Democrat" like Jefferson. John Quincy Adams, now a member of the House, called Tyler a "political sectarian of the slave-driving, Virginian, Jeffersonian school, principled against all improvement, with all the interests and passions and vices of slavery rooted in his moral and political constitution—with talents not above mediocrity, and a spirit incapable of expansion to the dimensions of the station upon which he has been cast."

Domestic Affairs: Clay tried to push his program through Congress; and thought that Tyler would not oppose him. He said once, "Tyler dares not resist me; I will drive him before me." He was wrong; Tyler could be pretty bullheaded himself.

Tyler vetoed the Bill for a Third National Bank. As a result, all of his cabinet, except for Webster, resigned. He replaced them with anti-Jackson Democrats. This infuriated the Whigs, who expelled him from the party. The Democrats did not want him, and he became a President without a party. As a result, his domestic program was finished before it started good.

Foreign Affairs: Major problems existed with Great Britain:

bullet Canadian Nationalists often took refuge in U.S. British attacked American ship carrying supplies for the Nationalists; one American killed.
bulletMaine boundary with Canada was in dispute.
bulletBritish actively opposed Atlantic slave trade; wanted to board American ships to prevent their carrying slaves. Americans remembered impressment, were not happy.

Webster - Ashburton Treaty: resolved issue of Maine border; and established joint British/American anti- slave trade patrols. Americans, by and large, were much more interested in westward expansion of the country than they were disputes over tariffs, banking, etc.

Expansion got a new name from an Eastern Newspaper Editor who wrote: Our manifest destiny is to overspread the continent allotted by Providence fo the free development of our yearly multiplying millions."

Possible Essay: "At its best, Manifest Destiny offered a moral justification for American expansion, a prescription for what an enlarged United States could and should be. At its worst, it was a cluster of flimsy rationalizations for naked greed and imperial ambition.

Western Indians: In 1840, approx. 350,000 Indians lived in Western U.S. before great migration from East. Divided into over 200 tribes; each with own culture, language, religion, etc.

Great Plains: Indians were nomadic, followed herds of buffalo, which was their main source of livelihood. Horses were introduced by the Spanish; prior to that, they used dogs as beasts of burden (or women), and had not been as nomadic as later. Indians often clashed over hunting grounds, etc. with other tribes. This gave rise to the warrior tradition of Plains Indians. Indians were awarded a feather for each act of bravery, when they could "count coup." This involved some act of great personal risk and bravery. If he counted coup enough, he could arrange his feathers onto a bonnet or staff. Sitting Bull, the great Sioux Chieftain, had a war bonnet that reached his feet, plus several staffs full of feathers.

Chiefs themselves had very little power. There were several chiefs within a tribe; each with his own responsibility. They were chosen more for their administrative abilities than for their warlike qualities. They were NOT absolute rulers. Among the Plains Indian tribes were the Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Sioux. All were horse-borne nomads.

Southwest: This included the Pueblo tribes; the Hopi, Zuni, Laguna, Taos, etc. They were farmers who lived in adobe villages along rivers. Grew beans and squash. They had rivals in the Apache and Navajo who were marauding Indians who preyed on the others. The Comanches tended to prey on the other two.

North/Northwest: Paiutes and Gosiutes. This in Utah and Northern California. These Indians were also nomads, but subsisted on pine nuts, rodents, insects, etc. They barely had a subsistence living. In some areas, they survived on fishing.

Pacific: These included the Chinook, Nez Perce, Yakima, Spokane, etc. they survived on the natural resources of the great Northwest. They among all the Indians had a concept of personal wealth, not common in other Indian areas. They had a very developed culture, and often practiced the potlatch, during which they gave away gifts, in order to obtain respect.

All Indians were subject to encroachments of white settlers. Most damaging was the fact that they killed off the buffalo with abandon. Often land was taken by treaty, and Indians were often cheated wholesale, as they had no concept of "owning" property.

First comprehensive treaty with the Indians: Fort Laramie Treaty: Indians agreed to stop harassing wagon trains, etc., agreed federal forts could be built on Indian territory, and agreed to confine themselves to a designated territory with defined boundaries, in exchange for a cash payment annually from the government.

This was the early beginning of the Indian Reservation system.

Americans moving West also encountered Spanish-speaking people; and were equally contemptuous of them as they were of the Indians. Most of these people were of mixed heritage, Indian and Spanish; and were poor. This lent itself to the contempt which Americans felt towards them. Most people were concentrated in New Mexico. Spanish had not been very successful at colonizing or controlling the rest of their empire.

1821—Mexico became independent from Spain. This included Spanish territory in the mainland continent. American fur traders begin pouring into the area; along with American settlers. Americans also showed up in California by way of Cape Horn.

By 1848, Americans made up half of California’s non-Indian population, although it was still part of Mexico. Southwest was suddenly an area tempting to Americans for exploitation and settlement.

The Rockies and Oregon Country: Fur trade had been in its heyday in 1820’s but by 1840, it’s better days were past. Many of the beaver had been trapped out. Fur trade had given rise to the "mountain men" who lived alone in primitive circumstances and trapped. They were the first to find their way around the Rocky Mountains and pioneer trails over the mountains.

Mountain men were a rough sort. They seldom bathed or shaved; and often scalped Indians. They met once a year to trade in a great meeting called the "rendezvous." They were not necessarily civilized at the rendezvous. They often drank a mixture of tobacco juice, grain alcohol, and other stuff called Tao’s Lighting. It was not uncommon to see men playing cards using the body of a dead man as a table.

Good Book on Subject: Centennial by James A. Mitchener. Includes discussion of Indian life, trappers, wagon trains, rendezvous, etc.

Great Britain and U.S. held Oregon Territory under joint occupation under Convention of 1818. Only Americans there was an occasional mountain man who wandered in; or a ship that came from Boston or New York to trade. Word reached East of the good soil and climate in Oregon, and people began heading in that direction, particularly after the Panic of 1837. First sizeable wagon trains went through about 1841, 1842. By 1845, 5,000 people were living in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

California: Spanish had occupied, later Mexico. Was always thinly populated, and so far away from Mexico City that people there didn’t worry too much about what the government had to say.

Mexican government had granted huge estates to Mexican settlers. These were called Ranchos; the people who owned them Rancheros. They lived in luxury and were organized like Feudal estates. Indians were forced to work on the ranchos; with a death rate twice that of slaves in the American south.

American ships began calling at California in the 1830’s and shippers set up stations there to trade for cattle hides and beef tallow.

Tallow was used to make Candles; Hides to make shoes.

John A. Sutter set up a settlement on Sacramento River for Swiss settlers. His settlement did not become a Swiss colony, but did become an attraction for Americans who wanted to settle in the area. By 1846: approximately 800 Americans were living in California; compared to about 8,000 – 12,000 Californios of Spanish descent.

Although some people traveled to California by sea; most traveled overland. Between 1841–1867, 350,000 people traveled to California and Oregon territory. Many stopped and settled along the way. They comprised a diverse group of nationalities and religions.

The Santa Fe Trail: Unlike Spain, Mexico encouraged trade with Americans. Caravans of wagons began traveling between Santa Fe, N.M and St. Louis, carrying trade goods either way.

Traders developed a contempt for the Latinos living there; they considered them a "mongrel" race; but they did prove that heavy wagons could make the trip overland.

Many people began traveling West on the Overland Trail (also known as the Oregon Trail). Traveled in family groups along trail. The trip was over 2,000 miles, and normally took about six months. They traveled in heavy wagons known as "prairie schooners" pulled by herds of oxen. By 1845, 5,000 people were making the trip annually. Contrary to what TV portrays, the Wagon Trains were seldom attacked by Indians. Less than four per cent of wagon train fatalities were the result of Indian attack. In fact, the Indians more often either allowed them to pass through, or maybe demanded payment, a sort of "toll." Sometimes, the Indians assisted the trains, acting as guides, or traders. There was some tension between settlers and Indians as the number of people increased, but never to the extent portrayed by Hollywood.

The trip West was incredibly difficult. Very few people were prepared for the journey. Animals often died along the way; as well as people, who often became ill with cholera, or scarlet fever. At one point, there was a grave every 80 yards along the Oregon Trail. In all, over 20, 000 settlers died along the way.

Life on the wagon train was rough. Women were supposed to perform normal household chores, cooking, washing, caring for children, with none of the comforts of a settled dwelling. Among their other less pleasant tasks was to gather buffalo chips to use as fuel for fires. They were also expected to help the men when a wagon got stuck, or an extra set of hands was needed. Men were responsible for driving the wagons, tending animals, and handling heavy labor. Men rarely assisted with household chores. Many became discouraged, and some turned back. But many kept going.

The most tragic story of a wagon train was of the Donner Party. This poor group made every mistake possible. They started too late; overloaded their wagons, then tried to take a shortcut that didn’t work, and had to turn back and go the long way. They reached the area presently known as the Donner Pass and became marooned for the Winter. Many died, and the people resorted to cannibalism to survive.

John Charles Fremont: Mapped the Oregon trail with the help of a number of mountain men, notably Christopher "Kit" Carson. He published reports of his expeditions, which created a great deal of interest in traveling west. He soon became known as the "pathfinder."

Since so many people were moving to California, several Presidents, beginning with Andrew Jackson tried to get at least Northern California as part of U.S. Jackson’s plan was that California could come into the Union as a free state, and Texas as a Slave State.

Attempts to purchase from Mexico failed; primarily because the Mexican government wasn’t interested; however, political problems in Mexico, and unrest in California soon meant that Mexico had neither the inclination nor the ability to keep the U.S. from taking California.  

Mexico had welcomed American settlement as a means of stabilizing the border. Americans were moving rapidly into Texas. One of most important was Stephen F. Austin who received a very large land grant. Austin started a colony that had over 2,000 settlers, all American, by 1824. Almost all settlers were southern farmers who wanted to grow Cotton in Texas. Land there was cheap. By 1830, Texas had 20,000 white settlers and 1,000 black slaves brought in to work the cotton.

Mexico became concerned, primarily because the newcomers refused to become Catholic, as Mexico had insisted; and attempted to stop further immigration. Americans continued to come in, though; almost as "wetbacks in reverse."

1833 – Americans in Texas demanded that it be organized into its own state (as part of Mexico). Instead, the Mexican leader, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, abolished the federal government system in Mexico, and assumed leadership as a dictator. Texans responded by declaring their independence from Mexico in 1836; which caused Santa Anna to march on Texas with an army of conquest.

First battle of the War for Texas Independence was fought at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. It was defended by a small group of Texans and Americans: Among them:

bulletCol. William B. Travis, Commander of the Garrison, from South Carolina.
bulletDavy Crockett, frontiersman and former U.S. Congressman. Called his gun "old Betsy.

Crockett was a Redneck’s Redneck. He told his men "Pierce the heart of the enemy as you would a fellow that spit in your face, knocked down your wife, burnt up your house, and called your dog a skunk. Cram his pesky carcass full of thunder and lightning like a stuffed sassige. . . . and bite his nose off into the bargain."

bulletJim Bowie, Slave smuggler, Indian fighter, inventor of the Bowie Knife.

There were 189 men defending the Alamo, against 5, 000 Mexicans. They fought to the last man, and managed to kill 1,544 Mexicans before they were defeated. Many were killed when the Mexicans stormed the fort; the others were executed. Alamo battle inspired fanatical resistance among Texans. Their battle cry became "Remember the Alamo."

Santa Anna declared his win at the Alamo a "glorious victory," but his soldiers were not so sure. His aide wrote in his dairy, "One more such glorious victory, and we are finished.

Texas Commander in Chief: Sam Houston. Houston had fought under Andrew Jackson, and had served a term in Congress. He managed to surprise a Mexican garrison and took Santa Anna Prisoner. By the Treaty of San Jacinto, Santa Anna recognized Texas Independence; this in order to get his freedom. The treaty set the Neuces River as the boundary between Texas and Mexico. The Mexican parliament quickly repudiated the Treaty.

Texas became the Lone Star Republic, elected Houston President, and immediately asked for annexation to the U.S. Jackson was still President, but he proved to be very discrete; for admitting Texas could create all sorts of problems.

bulletTexas would come in as a slave state when Congress was full of abolitionist sentiments.
bulletA sectional quarrel might keep Van Buren, whom he had hand picked to succeed him, from being elected.
bulletMexico might decide to declare war on the U.S. Jackson was not ready for that.

Jackson did not even recognize the independence of Texas until his last day in office; and Van Buren skirted the statehood issue. When things didn’t work out with the U.S., Texas decided to expand on it’s own. It’s new President, one Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar, spoke of expanding to the Pacific as a new nation. He had help, too. The French and British were delighted to buy Texas Cotton, and recognized the new republic, even before the U.S. did. They also promised to oppose U.S. expansion.

Slavery was an issue here too. The British had emancipated slaves throughout the Empire in 1832, and hoped that Texas would free its slaves in return for a deal on Texas cotton.

There was tremendous anxiety in the U.S. about the possibility of a Texas/British alliance. Southern Slaveholders became the chief advocates for annexation of Texas; hoping not to have a non-slave republic on their doorstep with Great Britain in tow to boot.

John C. Calhoun was Tyler’s Secretary of State after Webster, and negotiated a treaty for annexation of Texas. For some strange reason, Calhoun saw fit to write to the British minister and instruct him on the blessings of slavery. He also stated that annexation of Texas was needed to keep the British abolitionists in check. Calhoun’s letter was published, and it then appeared that annexation was not so much to protect the national interest as to protect the expansion of slavery. This pretty much snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The Senate overwhelmingly refused to ratify the treaty.

Annexation of Texas became an issue in the Presidential Campaign of 1844. The Whigs nominated Clay, who wrote a letter to Washington Newspapers while on a tour of the South, his famous "Raleigh Letter," in which he said that annexation was "dangerous to the integrity of the Union." The Whig platform made no mention of Texas.

The Democrats were angry with Van Buren, who had been the front-runner for one more try, because he had not supported annexation of Texas. The convention deadlocked, and on the eighth ballot, they nominated the first dark-horse candidate, James K. Polk. The party platform called for "the reoccupation of Oregon and the re-annexation of Texas."

Manifest Destiny was a tremendous pull. A third party appeared, the Liberty Party, which took away just enough votes from the Whigs to deprive Clay of New York. If he had carried New York, he would have won by seven electoral votes. As a result, James K. Polk became President, the first minority President since John Q. Adams.

Polk was born near Charlotte, graduated from University of North Carolina; trained in mathematics and classics. Moved to Tennessee, and was a Lawyer/Planter (a la Jackson). He had served 14 years in Congress and had been Speaker of the House. The resemblance to Jackson was undeniable. His supporters called him "Young Hickory."

Polk’s Programs: Polk reflected the typical Democratic position in support of Slavery. He warned that abolition would tear the country apart. Those in the North who opposed slavery were already beginning to leave the party wholesale.

bulletWalker Tariff of 1846 – lowered tariff rates.
bulletRestored the Independent treasury. (The Whigs had dismantled it).
bulletVetoed two internal improvement bills.

He was chipping away at Clay’s American System, and at the same time keeping the South happy. At the same time he was annoying people in the North who wanted the internal improvements, and felt they needed them.

Texas: Polk had already privately stated that he intended to obtain California and New Mexico, hopefully by purchase.

Tyler accepted the election of Polk as a mandate to acquire Texas. Before leaving office, he asked Congress to pass a joint resolution of annexation. (this was different from a Treaty, as it required only a simple majority vote in both houses; a treaty ratification would require only a Senate vote, but it would require a 2/3 majority.

Congress had seen the returns also; and knew the score. The debate over the admission of Texas turned almost exclusively on the slavery issue, and became very bitter at times. It passed by narrow margins in both houses, and Texas was extended an invitation to join the union. Tyler signed the resolution on March 1, 1845, a few days before he left office. Texas formally joined the Union on December 29, 1845.

Important: Texas’ claim to independence, the Treaty of San Jacinto, set the boundary at the Neuces River. When Texas was annexed, it was assumed, rather broadly, that the boundary was the Rio Grande.

Texas is the only state to come into the Union as an independent nation, and thereby on equal footing with the United States itself. For that reason, protocol states that Texas is the only state which properly may fly its state flag at an equal level with the flag of the United States.

Oregon: Expansionists were ready to go to War with Great Britain to take the Oregon territory. The slogan was "fifty-four forty or fight." (This was the line where they wanted the boundary drawn, which cut deep into British Columbia.).

Polk claimed title to Oregon was "clear and unmistakable," but knew that war with Mexico was on the brink, and did not want to risk war with Britain at the same time. Polk didn’t know but the British didn’t want war either. They didn’t have that much interest in Oregon, as the fur trade had depleted; and American trade was more important to them than the territory. They would lose the trade in a war.

Treaty was finally negotiated between the Secretary of State, James Buchanan (later President), and Lord Pakenham which drew the line at the 49th parallel. Some people in old Northwest wanted more, but most of the Country was satisfied. The Southerners were only interested in Texas, and the Northerners were more interested in trade than territory. Not only that, the Mexian War had already broken out.

Mexico was angry over the annexation of Texas; which it considered illegal. March 6, 1845, Mexico broke diplomatic relations with the U.S. Polk then moved on the sneak. He sent a message to Col. Thomas O. Larkin in Monterrey, California that he would make no effort to induce California to join the union, but "if the people should desire to unite their destiny with ours, they would be received as brethren."

At the same time, Polk sent Zachary Taylor to guard the Rio Grande, territory disputed by Mexico as even being part of Texas. A skirmish broke out in which eleven Americans were killed; and as a result, in his war message to Congress, Polk took the high ground and declared that "American blood has been shed on American soil." Congress declared War on Mexico on March 13, 1846.

Opposition to the War: Many New Englanders originally opposed the war, as they considered it a war of conquest to find more territory for slavery; but before the war was over, many who had opposed it supported it, as they were lured by the temptation of Manifest Destiny.

A little known Congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln, a Whig, offered many "spot resolutions," asking Polk to name the spot where American blood had been shed on American soil."

The War: America was ill prepared for war, and was risking war with Mexico and Great Britain at the same time. Fortunately for America, Mexico was in even worse shape. Gen. Zachary Taylor was appointed Commander in Chief; commonly known as "Old Rough and Ready." His son-in-law, Jefferson Davis, fought under him. Later, Winfield Scott was named to head a division to capture Mexico City. Polk had not wanted to name Scott, as he was an ambitious Whig, and might run for President against Polk next term. Scott himself was a tall, striking, but very vain man, who often wore colorful sashes, kerchiefs, etc. on his Uniform. He had been nicknamed "Old Fuss and Feathers" because of his vanity.

The War was the first significant combat experience for a number of junior officers who would later become quite prominent: Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, George B. McClellan, George Pickett, and George Meade, among others..

September 13, 1845, Scott captured Mexico City, occupied the national palace, and ran up the American Flag over the "halls of Montezuma.

War ended by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo:

bulletMexico gave up all claims to Texas
bulletCeded California and New Mexico to U.S.
bulletU.S. paid Mexico $15 million and assumed claims of Americans against Mexico.

There was some sentiment that the U.S. should take all of Mexico; but Polk was afraid to push his luck, so he submitted the Treaty as drawn, and it was ratified by the Senate on March 10, 1848.

Gadsden Purchase (1853) added additional territory; Manifest Destiny was fulfilled.