Archive for the ‘Early nineteenth century (1810-1850)’ Category

The other night we watched yet another of those “disasters of the Apocalypse” shows that seem to pop up with almost absurd frequency these days.  It’s usually the Discovery Channel, or the History Channel, or the Learning Channel, but they’re on all the time.  I suppose it has something to do with the ominous approach of 2012, the year the Mayan calendar ends and a bunch of people believe “the big one” is going to go up.

Didn’t the Mayans live a thousand years ago?  Their calendar probably ended in 2012 simply because they found more entertaining ways to occupy their time.  Hopefully the weight that lots of people give to this nonsense is mostly just a figment of my imagination, because if it’s not, then there are a lot of people that haven’t (unlike the Mayans) found more entertaining ways to occupy their time.

But I digress.  Anyways, this show was one we hadn’t seen before and was narrated by Samuel Jackson.  It was sort of a countdown of the various ways lots of people could get killed by disasters.  There was a big rainstorm over California at Number 5.  Number 4 I can’t remember, but I’m sure it was worse than a container of duck toys spilling into the Pacific.  Numbers 2 and 1 were completely predictable.  Two was a massive tsunami caused by a volcanic eruption and landslide at La Palma island in the Azores…this has been described on a dozen different “what-if” shows.  And of course, Numero Uno was the mega-volcano erupting in Yellowstone, which would lay waste to most of the American existance.  Again, we are not surprised, as this potential disaster is also well-known.

It was Number 3 that most caught my attention…an earthquake.  To be more specific, an earthquake in the Midwest.  Earthquakes in this area aren’t nearly as famous as those occurring around the Pacific Rim and the corresponding Ring of Fire, because they’re so rare.  But when the bigger ones hit, they pack a powerful wallop.

The most famous of the “Midwest” quakes on record was a series of temblors that culminated in a tremendous quake in February of 1812.  Centered over southeast Missouri, northeast Arkansas, and western Tennessee, the biggest ones were felt over a 1,000,000 square miles and damage was recorded as far away as Maine.

But it all began 200 years ago today…December 16, 1811.

At 2:15 in the morning, people along the New Madrid Fault were thrown from their beds by a tremendous rumbling.  They scrambled out of their crumbling homes and got a night-time view of the apocalypse, as the landscape heaved and bucked like a drunken man, under the influence of a quake that would have registered close to 8.0 on the Richter Scale.  There were sand blows and landslides, soil liquifaction and, to hear the locals tell it, a brief reversal of the mighty Mississippi River.

Six hours later, another quake similar in scope struck the region again.  Too large to be an aftershock, it classifies as its own separate quake.  People all over the region were terrified, looking heaven-ward and awaiting the arrival of the Four Horsemen.  Damage was extensive, but deaths relatively light because the population was sparse.

For many years, scientists believed that major earthquakes struck along the New Madrid Fault every couple of hundred years.  And guess what?…we’re at exactly 200 years today.  But seismic activity along the fault has dwindled to a relative handful of very small shakers each year.  I read somewhere that geologists think the fault might be seizing up to a point where quakes no longer occur.

But for the millions of residents that live in St. Louis, Kansas City, Memphis, Chicago, and other large cities in the region, there is that small concern.  I live in central Iowa, several hundred miles from the fault, but I think about it all the time.  Homes in the Midwest are built with tornadoes (and in recent years, flooding) in mind, not earthquakes.

A repeat of the quakes that began two centuries ago would be cataclysmic.

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It’s Thanksgiving Eve, and while it may not carry the same weight as Christmas Eve, it’s reason enough to keep things brief.

For President James Madison, 1814 had not been a particularly kind year.  The same could be said for most of the fledgling Union over which Madison served as Commander-in-Chief.  The war with Britain (the second of Madison’s life when you consider the War of Independence) was not going very well.  The nation’s capital was no longer smoking, but it was a ruin thanks to British torches.  War Secretary Armstrong had been summarily sacked by an irate Madison.

Politics was rearing its ugly head, with New England governors refusing to allow their state militias to be used for national defense.  The ballot box had not been Madison’s friend, either.  Mid-term elections had seen the Federalist Party, largely marginalized since John Adams left office, make significant gains.

Then there were the British who, in addition to the war itself, were working hard to sway the New England states to break away from the southern states (especially those pesky Virginians) and reestablish ties to the mother country.  Citizens were smuggling goods to the enemy and colluding with them.

And to add injury to all the insult, Madison was ill again.  The heat and humidity of Washington, D.C.’s summer and fall never agreed with the President.  He often spent much of that time back at home.  But this year had been different, and Madison was paying a physical price.

On November 23, 1814, the news got worse.  Vice President Elbridge Gerry had died of a lung hemorrhage while riding in his carriage to the Senate.  Gerry had been a member of the Second Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention.  And while he initially voted against the Constitution, he eventually became a strong supporter.  During his time as the governor of Massachusetts, he supported a redistricting bill that not only took on his name (gerrymandering), but also cost him re-election.  And now he was gone.

The rejuvenated Federalists smelled blood.  One of them would write, “If Mr. President Madison would resign now that Mr. Gerry is no more, a president of the Senate might be chosen, who would . . . do honor to the nation.”

Gerry’s death had transformed James Madison from the President to a Federalist target.

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It’s a hot, steamy, summer Sunday night.  There really aren’t any clouds to speak of, but I think if I went out and shouted loud enough, I could trigger storms.  It feels like one of those days where something bad weather-wise could happen at any time, but so far, nothing.

July 4th hasn’t always been a good day for Presidents.  We know that because we’ve discussed it on a couple of occasions.  Presidents Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe all died on this day.  And our 12th President, Zachary Taylor, overdressed for the 4th of July celebrations (wearing a heavy black suit), got overheated, and then tried to cool himself by over-consuming iced milk and cold cherries.  He apparently shocked his system to the point of death, which took him five days later in a bout of gastroenteritis.

And so Vice President Millard Fillmore became our nation’s 13th President on July 10, 1850.  Unfortunately, I know very little about Fillmore (my study of the Presidents is currently at #5…James Monroe).  Well, here’s what I know…

Fillmore was a member of the Whig Party and was the last Whig President.  Of course, the mid-19th century was dominated by the issue of slavery, and Fillmore came down squarely in the middle of the issue.  He was against it personally, but also supported slavery measures for the sake of the South.  My eyebrows are always raised when I come across this kind of logic, and I wonder what Jack Marshall over at Ethics Alarms would have to say about it (Fillmore’s dual stance on slavery, not my raised eyebrows).

Anyways, that’s pretty much what I know…so not very much.

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Happy Independence Day!!

Back in 2008, we took this day to reflect on the lives of Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  It seems so completely appropriate that both these Founders, so intertwined with the founding of this great nation, died as the last surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence on this day in 1826…the country’s 50th anniversary.

John Adams’ words on that last day (and maybe the last words he spoke before his death) were, “It is a great day.  It is a good day.” 

But as we know, Adams and Jefferson weren’t the only Presidents to call this day their last.  There is another.  And in fact, he’s also a Founding Father.  The last Founding Father.  The last President to live and serve his not-yet-formed country during her first, and greatest, hour of need.  I speak of President James Monroe.

The fifth President died on July 4, 1831.  Like Jefferson before him, he died essentially broke.  Early 19th-century politicians didn’t earn anything like their 21st-century counterparts, and Monroe’s long public service had left him with a lot of debt.  Eventually, he would be forced to sell most of his property and belongings to clear his financial name.

And James Monroe died broken.  Less than two years before, his wife (and lifelong partner) Elizabeth had died.  In his grief, Monroe became irrational to the point of refusing to leave her burial vault, saying he would wait there to die and rejoin his wife.  When he returned home, he burned all the correspondance he had with her.  Letters, papers, diaries…everything.  So unlike John Adams and his wife Abigail, an incredible treasure trove of early-American documentation went up in fireplace smoke.

But Monroe, like the four Presidents before him, laid the foundation for all who would follow.  In his new biography of Monroe, Harlow Giles Unger closes his book writing, “Across the nation, Americans in every town and city mourned the man who had fought for liberty in the Revolution, opened the West, and expanded the nation’s boundaries ‘from sea to shining sea.’  He had led his people into an era of unprecendented prosperity and ‘good feelings’…”

John Quincy Adams, the former President turned Congressman, offered up the following:  “…look at the map of United North America, as it was . . . in 1783.  Compare it with the map of that same Empire as it is now. . . .  The change, more than of any other man, living or dead, was the work of James Monroe.”

Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe.  While it’s true that all three died on this day, we should celebrate their lives as foundational to all the good things this nation has become.  They were not perfect men, nor do we necessarily agree with everything they wrote or said or did.  But these men, and Monroe in particular, loved their country as much as the hundreds of thousands of men who have died on battlefields (both here and abroad) defending the freedoms these men brought to America.

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President Andrew Jackson didn’t hate all banks, just one of them.  The problem was that the one bank he hated was the Second Bank of the United States, which was essentially the country’s Central Bank.  Of course, “Second” Bank implies there was a “First” Bank.  If you figured as much, you’re spot-on right.

The First Bank of the United States had been created in February of 1791 (we briefly mentioned it) by President Washington and Treasury Secretary Hamilton.  Its 20-year charter had expired in 1811, but had been renewed in 1816 (as the Second Bank) with another 20-year charter.

And President Jackson wanted nothing to do with it.  He believed it was a tool of wealthy businessmen to oppress common people.  He also thought that, due to his recent election to a second term, the people had given him a mandate to shut down the Bank.  But even more than that, he believed the Second Bank was a threat to the existence of the Republic…one could almost say to the point of obsession.

In his biography of the President, Jon Meachem recounts a conversation Jackson had with a minister as they sailed aboard a steamship to Staten Island in June of 1833.  Jackson said, “What a country God has given us!  How thankful we ought to be that God has given us such a country to live in. … We have the best country, and the best institutions in the world.  No people have so much to be grateful for as we.  But ah!  My reverend friend, there is one thing that I fear will yet sap the foundation of our liberty – that monster institution, the Bank of the United States!  Its existence is incompatible with liberty.  One of the two must fall – the bank or our free institutions.”

The President’s plan was take the country’s deposits out of the “big-B” Bank and deposit them in various “little-B” banks.  There was just one little issue…Treasury Secretary William Duane.  Having just been appointed to the position on June 1st, he was the guy who, by law, was empowered to decide what to do with the public funds.  And from day 1, the screws were put to him to fall in line with Jackson’s wishes.  Of course, those in favor of the Bank knew the rules as well, and they pushed Duane just as hard from the other side.

William Duane then spent time in the Constitution, and came away believing that the real authority over the Bank lay with Congress, and not the President.  Meachem, almost humorously I think, writes, “He was still thinking in pre-Jacksonian terms about the role of the President.”  The President responded predictably to Duane, “My object, sir, is to save the country, and it will be lost if we permit it to exist.”

And on September 10, 1833, President Jackson took action on his own.  He received word that there were numerous good banks ready to take on the funds removed from the Bank.  And so he announced to his Cabinet that the government would no longer use the Second Bank of the United States.

President Jackson had just thrown down the gauntlet in the Bank War.

Recommended Reading:  American Lion

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I’ll keep it brief this evening, because the subject of  Today’s History Lesson is the briefest of its kind.

William Henry Harrison is best known as the President who served the shortest term.  Taking the Oath of Office on March 4, 1841, he remained in office for just 31 days, before dying from pneumonia and septicemia on April 4, 1841.

But there’s more that makes him unique.

William Henry Harrison was the first President to die while serving in office.  He was the last President born (in 1773) before the American Revolution began in 1776.  He was the oldest elected President, taking office at 68 years of age, and holding that distinction until Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 at age 69.

Harrison was the first candidate from the relatively short-lived Whig Party to be elected to the nation’s highest office and just one of two Whig Presidents elected, the other being Zachary Taylor.  Incidentally, Taylor also died in office just 9 years later.

Harrison’s Inagural Address was the longest of any President, running nearly two hours in length.  His agenda, one of undoing much of what was done by his two predecessors (Andrew Jackson and Martin van Buren), was extensive.  But the only item accomplished in this shortest of terms involved calling a special session of Congress, an order he didn’t live long enough to see.

And 1841 would be one of only two years that would see three Presidents serve in its duration (van Buren, Harrison, and John Tyler).  The other was 1881, when Hayes, Garfield, and Arthur each held office.

So, while William Henry Harrison served the shortest Presidential term, there really is no shortage of interesting tidbits surrounding him.

Recommended Reading: Presidents – All You Need to Know

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Wow!  I can’t believe it’s been a week.  There have been a lot of things happening and Today’s History Lesson, unfortunately, hasn’t been one of them.  Hopefully, I won’t go a week between postings again.  Let’s see if we can’t get back into the swing of things.

On February 9, 1825, John Quincy Adams was elected the 6th President of the United States.  Now right away, you should notice that U.S. Presidents are normally chosen during the November elections, so something’s out of place.  There was an election, but it didn’t end with any one candidate garnering a majority of the available Electoral Votes.  Voting was split between Adams, Andrew Jackson, William Crawford, and Henry Clay.

What makes this result a little more interesting is that all four candidates were from the same party.  In fact, they were from the only party.  The Federalist Party, the party of Washington, Hamilton, and John Adams, and John Quincy himself, had collapsed some years before, leaving just the Democratic-Republican party.  So it might be said that, during this period of time, the U.S. was blessed (if that’s the right word) with a one-party system, which probably made the conventions unworthy of TV coverage.

Anyways, while the “popular vote” was not really tallied in the 1824 election like it is now, Andrew Jackson was the clear winner, collecting more than 40% of the votes to Adams’ 31%.  He also had 99 Electoral Votes under his name, more than Adams’ 84.

But 131 Electoral Votes were required and so, as stipulated by the Constitution’s Twelfth Amendment, the election issue was passed to the House of Representatives.  Clay, who finished 4th in the voting, was ineligible.  Crawford, having garnered 3rd place despite suffering a massive stroke way back in 1823, was deemed unfit.  So it came down to Adams and Jackson.

Clay’s position as House Speaker gave him pretty heavy influence in the proceedings, and he carried with him a strong personal dislike for Andrew Jackson.  Furthermore, his own policies aligned more closely with those of Adams, so all his support was thrown to John Quincy, who carried the day and was named President on the first ballot.

Then Adams chose Henry Clay as his Secretary of State, and the fur began to fly.  An outraged Jackson accused the two of collusion, and the collapse of the one-party system had begun.  As it would turn out, Adams’ Presidency was much like his father’s.  Both men were of unquestioned integrity, but both lacked to political savvy to garner support in Washington, both allowed dissension to remain in their Cabinets, and both did little to promote themselves for re-election.

John Quincy Adams would be soundly trounced by Andrew Jackson four years later.  And by then, the battle lines in the Democratic-Republican Party had been drawn, with Jackson taking the “Democrat” side, and Adams the “Republican”.

The two-party system was back in American politics…this time to stay.

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Every time I watch a documentary about the Apollo Moon missions or catch a story on The Discovery Channel about interplanetary space travel, my mind flashes back to the bar scene in the movie Dumb and Dumber when Lloyd Christmas (played by Jim Carrey) announces to surprised (and somewhat amused) on-lookers that we had just landed on the moon…this scene.  And despite the fact that it’s easily one of the funniest and most quotable movies ever, it’s not the subject of Today’s History Lesson.

The Moon, however, is.

Or rather, a series of articles about the Moon.

Back in the 1830’s, everybody pretty much had seen the Moon.  And quite a few people knew that a couple planets in our solar system also had moons, and maybe a handful of people knew that other planets outside our solar system had them as well.  But most people didn’t really know what the Moon was like.  On August 25, 1935, the public got some new information when the New York Sun published the first in a series of articles about the Moon.  The Sun was a fairly new paper, and despite its cheaper price and somewhat different style, it was considered a serious paper, much like the New York Times.

Anyways, the “Moon” articles were reprinted from the Edinburgh Journal of Science by Dr. Andrew Grant, a traveling companion of John Herschel, a noted mathemetician and astronomer.  Herschel had gone to South Africa and set up an observatory the year before, and had studied the Moon’s surface.

And Dr. Grant said the discoveries Herschel made were incredible.  He described a heavenly body of lush vegetation, oceans, rivers, waterfalls, and mountains.  And there were fantastic animals as well.  Unicorns, beavers without tails that walked upright, and some strange human-like creature with wings like a bat.  There were more traditional animals as well…lions, and tigers, and bears…maybe even a liger or two.

The article published on the 25th was the first in a series of six pieces concerning Herschel’s discoveries.  The one small problem was that Herschel’s observatory in South Africa turned out to be the only factual aspect of the stories.  There were no unicorns or waterfalls or batmen.  There were no piles of jewels laying around and no ligers.  In fact, there was no “Dr. Andrew Grant” and no Edinburgh Journal of Science (well, there was an Edinburgh Journal of Science, but it had ceased publication years earlier).  There was just a Sun writer with an active imagination and a clever pen.

But the readers bought the stories…and they bought the papers as well.  Even some scientists from Yale thought they were true, and ventured to the Sun’s offices to find the journal articles.  Three weeks later, when the Sun published the “We Gotcha!” story, people thought it was pretty humorous.  And people continued to buy the papers.

But those Yale professors…?

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When we think of earthquakes, we tend to think of specific places like San Francisco or Alaska, where major quakes have occurred.  We probably also think of places like Indonesia and Bande Aceh, where an underwater earthquake and subsequent landslide caused the immense tsunami on December 26, 2004.  Others of us may think in more general terms, like the Ring of Fire, the large volcanic and seismic zone ringing the Pacific Ocean that has spawned much of the activity in the places I just mentioned.

But rarely do we think of the central United States when discussing topics related to seismology.  And that’s easily understandable, because earthquakes in Mississippi River Valley just don’t happen all that often.  But when they do,…

It’s a relatively unknown geological fact that, as the longest river in the United States flows past southern Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas, it passes over a sizeable fault line.  Known as the New Madrid Seismic Zone, it encompasses the aforementioned states (as they border on the Mississippi River) as well as southern Illinois, western Kentucky, and even the northern tip of Mississippi.  And in this area there have thousands of minor temblors and quakes in recent years, though no major quakes.

For those, we need to go back to the winter of 1811-12, when major quakes were recorded, quakes that rank as some of the most powerful in U.S. history.  Beginning in December of 1811, two major quakes were followed by numerous smaller shakes and aftershocks.  But all of those were the lead-up to the biggest of the quakes, which rocked the Midwest on February 7, 1812.  Centered around New Madrid, Missouri, estimates have the quake at 8.0 on the Richter Scale, and it was felt on a massive scale.

How massive?  Stories are told that the quake cracked sidewalks in the nation’s capital and knocked down chimneys in…are you ready?…Maine.  All told, the quake was felt in an area that covers 1,000,000 square miles.  By comparison, the infamous 1906 San Francisco Earthquake covered only about 6,000 square miles.  Though the scale was partially due to the bedrock in which the quake occurred, this was still a tremendously powerful quake.

Today, the fault is still active, and there is growing concern that another major shake-up is building, particularly since we are now approaching 200 years since the quakes of 1812.  What’s more, there has been very little earthquake preparation in the Midwest, and nothing at all approaching the scale of more earthquake-prone areas.  A repeat of the 1812 events would be catastrophic, considering the major population centers that could be affected.

Recommended Reading: When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes – History, intrigue, and mayhem in one volume.  I’ve yet to read this book, but from what I’ve seen, it’s going to be part of my next book order.

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On December 28, 1846, Iowa was admitted to the Union as its 29th state.   And having lived here all my life, I think I can speak with some degree of knowledge about it.

Iowa is decidedly average, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  With roughly 3 million people, it ranks 30th in population.  It’s 26th in physical size, and 24th in median income.  And its location, pretty much right in the middle of the country, only adds to the averageness.  But one of my previous jobs involved a lot of travel, and having criss-crossed the state a bunch of times, I can safely say there’s a lot of neat stuff here.

If you’re interested in the past, there are numerous places that take you back in time.  The Amana Colonies near Cedar Rapids, the Amish enclaves just an hour to the south around Kalona, or Living History Farms in Des Moines.

If the future is your thing, you’ll be happy to know that Iowa boasts one of the largest wind farms in the world.  Apparently, the way the winds blow across the north-central and northwest part of the state make it ideal for wind turbines.

And while we may not have nearly as many lakes as our neighbor to the north, we have plenty of good ones, including our own set of Great Lakes (Spirit Lake, East & West Lake Okiboji), located in the state’s northwest corner.

Like to bike?  We’ve got hundreds of miles of bike trails throughout the state.  And every year, thousands of cyclists participate in RAGBRAI, traversing the state from west to east over the course of a week.

Iowa is also home to some pretty famous people, all of which have historical sites you can visit.  A President (Herbert Hoover, born in West Branch), a Vice-President (Henry Wallace, born in Orient), and the wife of a President (Mamie Eisenhower, born in Boone) are all Iowans.  John Wayne (who we’ve discussed before) was born in Winterset, and Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson resides just north of Des Moines.

Of course, Iowa is best known for agriculture.  Primary row crops include corn, soybeans, and some oats.  Animal livestock is also important to the state, with pigs, cattle (both beef and dairy), and chickens leading the way.

I know you’re probably still full of Christmas candy and Yuletide treats (heck, maybe you’re still eating them), but find a way to celebrate anyways.  If you have friends in Iowa (and we’re generally really friendly, so you likely do), give them a quick call to say congratulations.

Happy Birthday, Iowa!!

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Those were the words of John Adams on the last day of his life.  It was great and it was good because it was July 4, 1826.  The United States was celebrating its 50th anniversary and Adams, as one of the two remaining signers of the Declaration of Independence still living, could look back and recall the official vote for independence on July 2, 1776.

The second of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of American.  I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.  It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.  It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.

Written to his wife Abigail, Adams missed the date, as today we celebrate Independence on the day the order was given the publish and distribute the Declaration…July 4th.  But our 2nd President got the spirit right, and our celebrations today reflect much of his desires, penned more than 230 years ago.

July 4, 1826 was also the last day of Thomas Jefferson’s life.  Our 3rd President (and other remaining “signer”) had a remarkable life, much of it spent in very close connection to Adams.  Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, served as Vice President to Adams and twice as President, and was the driving force behind the Louisiana Purchase, the greatest single expansion of the country.

In his last letter (to the Mayor of Washington declining an invitation to the country’s 50th anniversary celebration), Jefferson wrote, “May it be to the world, what I believe it will be (to some parts sooner, the others later, but finally to all) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government…All eyes are opened or opening to the rights of man.  The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few, booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God.  These are the grounds of hope for others: for ourselves, let the annual return to this day forever refresh our recollection of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.

Thomas Jefferson would pass away just after 1pm on the 4th…John Adams would follow 5 hours later.  But their desire for freedom had founded a nation.  And their words should continue to inspire it 230 years later…and beyond.

On June 30, 1826, a small delegation came to Adams’ home and asked for a quote to read aloud as a toast at the upcoming celebration.  Adams thought for moment and said, “Independence forever.” May that be our wish as well.

Happy Birthday, America!!!

Recommended Reading: American Sphinx

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Other than perhaps a blockade, the siege seems like the most boring of all military maneuvers.  It’s very effective, of course, and it means a low number of casualties for the siege-er.  But it’s slow and dull – unless you happen to be the one being sieged, I guess.

Needing to establish a base in order to more easily move inland, Major General Winfield Scott, commander of southern forces in the War with Mexico, decided that a siege on the city of Veracruz wouold be the most effective route.  His men, especially his main subordinate, General William J. Worth, were not happy.  They wanted action – a full assault of the city – not standing around.  But the city had three forts manned by more than 4,500 men, and Scott knew that wearing out the city and forts through artillery was the best way to proceed.

In the country’s first large-scale amphibious assault, Scott led 12,000 men ashore in one day.  They established a trench line about 8 miles long to surround the city, and after a delay of several days (partly due to fights between Scott and the naval forces offshore as to the navy’s role), the barrage began on March 22, 1847.

Scott showed patience in choosing the siege over the more riskier assault, and his patience resulted in a loss of only 13 men under his command.  After pressure was applied by the local consuls of England, France and Prussia and a few days of negotiations, the commander of Veracruz’s forces surrendered on March 29th.

Recommended reading: So Far from God: The U.S. War With Mexico, 1846-1848

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Andrew Jackson hated the very idea of a national bank.  Of this there is no doubt.  He called the Bank of the United States “a monster” and said that it “corrupted” and “threatened” our liberty.  He instructed the Treasury Secretary to withdraw the country’s deposits from the bank in order to cripple it.  And then when that guy refused, Jackson fired him and found someone who would proceed.  It was like Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre – except it was a Monday…

All this caused the Senate to pass a vote on March 28, 1834 censuring Jackson – the first and only time a President has been successfully censured.

Jackson argued that the Senate didn’t even have the power to censure:

The resolution of the Senate is wholly unauthorized by the Constitution, and in derogation of its entire spirit. It assumes that a single branch of the legislative department may for the purposes of a public censure, and without any view to legislation or impeachment, take up, consider, and decide upon the official acts of the Executive.

His argument was compelling enough that the censure was overturned 3 years later (although his party gaining the majority in the next election might’ve also helped a wee bit) and similar attempts have been unsuccessful since.

Recommended reading: Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times

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Birthday wishes go out to James Madison, our 4th president, who would turn a ripe, old 247 today – if he had made it this long.

Despite his impressive resume (principal author of both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and Commander-in-Chief during the country’s 2nd American Revolution), he’s not thought of that highly by historians.  

He had the misfortune of being short, socially awkward and possibly even nerdy.  Perhaps his work in actually creating the government set the bar too high.  In fact, I guess he could’ve been our first presidential underachiever.  But it’s safe to day that regardless of what he achieved as president, his entire career shaped the country in a way that few others have.

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Missouri Compromise Map

On March 6th, 1820 President James Monroe ratified the Missouri Compromise, effectively allowing Missouri into the Union as a slave state, and admitting Maine as a free state. The Missouri Compromise also served to bar slavery both North and West of Missouri. The belief was that the Compromise could calm the factions of pro-slavery and abolitionists, but instead led to further friction.

Hindsight can be 20/20, and unfortunately this proves true for the mistakes that the Missouri Compromise provided as opposed to the problems that its supporters believed it might fix. The nation was in heated debate over the issue of slavery, and this would eventually lead to the argument of state’s rights and the opening of a civil war that would test the strength of the young country. All of this, though, could not have been predicted by the leaders of the nation in 1820. At this point in time, they were trying to find a way to allow cooler heads to prevail and find the compromises that would unify opposing factions.

Unfortunately, the end result is that no one would be happy. The Compromise would effectively be overturned with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed settlers to decide whether slavery would be allowed within their new territories. The Missouri Compromise would become just another futile domino in the chain of history that led to the outbreak of war in 1861. As with many of the stop-gaps that eventually led up to war, the Missouri Compromise would only put off the inevitable decision of whether slavery would or would not be allowed in the United States.

In the end, citizens on both sides of the debate over slavery would be unhappy. Abolitionists wanted to see the end of slavery, or at the very least a containment of it. They viewed the Compromise as an act of good will towards the institution of slavery which they opposed, while slave owners and their sympathizers saw it as an infringement on state rights, as well as a continued attempt to contain and attack their livelihood. As with every compromise and act that attempted to quell the debate over slavery, the Missouri Compromise could only momentarily avoid the question of slavery, and the inevitable war that would soon rock the nation.

Suggested Reading:
Conflict & Compromise: The Political Economy of Slavery, Emancipation and the American Civil War, by Roger L. Ransom
Further Reading from Roger L. Ransom

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I was going to take a day off from blogging, but after living in Texas for four years (Pony Up, y’all!), I can’t not remember the Alamo.  It was on March 6, 1836, that the final assault took place – just days after Texas declared its independence from Mexico – and 189 defenders were overrun and killed.

But speaking of not remembering…  A survey came out last week that basically said today’s teens are historically illiterate.  It claims they are a little better on the more recent stuff (Pearl Harbor, MLK) which makes sense, but once you get back into the 19th century and before… well, let’s just say that to a lot of them, Alamo is just a place to rent a car.

But as Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory noted, this doesn’t really mean that schools are getting worse at teaching the basics.  He rightly notes that these types of studies done decades ago yielded even worse results!

My theory is this: Schools are there to provide a foundational knowledge for the students who seek to learn it.  There will always be kids who opt out of the learning process.  Sadly, they then usually become adults who never reverse their course.  But there also exists the “true learners,” those who can’t soak up enough of whatever interests them.  These types of illiteracy studies never seem to properly account for the ones with passion.

Recommended reading: Lone Star Nation: How a Ragged Army of Volunteers Won the Battle for Texas Independence – and Changed America

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