Movement within Bounds on the Antislavery Political Spectrum: The Case of Edward Everett

Several years ago I was at work on what I thought would be a group biography of the doughfaces, Northern politicians favorable to compromise with the South over slavery.  I was prompted in large part by Leonard Richards’ book illustrating how instrumental doughfaces were in enabling Southern domination of the federal government.  But as I contemplated their significance beyond that point, an insight from David Potter (brought to my attention by a conference panel commentary from Michael Morrison) proved provocative.  Historians’ recognition that “slavery, in one aspect or another, pervaded all of the aspects of sectionalism,” Potter noted, has left them content to ask “a simple question: Did the people of the North really oppose slavery? rather than a complex one: What was the rank of antislavery in the hierarchy of northern values?”  The complex version should help us perceive how the antislavery sentiment of the vast majority of Northerners conflicted with their love of a Union and Constitution that manifestly protected slavery.  Thus the question became for them “not a choice of alternatives – antislavery or proslavery – but a ranking of values. . . . The difference between ‘antislavery men’ and ‘conciliationists’ in the North was not a question of what they thought about slavery alone, but of how they ranked these priorities.”  I found this conceptual framework a real leap forward in my thinking, and started applying it profitably to understanding doughfaces of various stripes.

Pursuing Potter’s formulation via the genre of biography helps us understand antebellum Northern politicians who at first glance seem wildly inconsistent on the issue of slavery.  If we can bring ourselves to take seriously their protestations both of love for the Union and distaste for slavery, we should not be surprised to see them move along a spectrum of antislavery belief and action.  While that peregrination rarely proceeded in one direction or predictable ways, it did transpire within limits for every antebellum Northern politician.  The relative strength of their antislavery principles dictated that there were bounds beyond which their conservatism could not go, but their nationalism and respect for law and order also set boundaries beyond which their antislavery could not go.

But a big part of why I jettisoned the group biography for a political biography of Edward Everett was that his career added a third axis beyond that of Union and antislavery.  For Everett was a National Republican and then a Whig, and his accompanying dedication to the ethic of reform and Improvement usually but not always amplified the antislavery priority in his thinking and actions.  His devotion to Whiggish reform certainly meant he would evince less bitterness towards abolitionists and antislavery politicians than did doughfaced Democrats.  All anti-abolitionists decried zealotry, but most Democratic doughfaces feared and loathed everyone who injected moral questions into the political arena.  Everett recoiled from fanaticism, but could better understand the antislavery reform impulse.

Everett’s resultant torturous meanderings on the slavery issue were too multiple to sketch fully here, but some highlights might be illustrative.  As a member of Congress representing a district in Massachusetts in the 1820s and 1830s, he largely stood as a Whig nationalist, pertinaciously opposed to Indian Removal and nullification while advocating internal improvements.  But Representative Everett traveled as far as he ever would down the proslavery side of the spectrum in two notorious speeches meant to defend the John Quincy Adams administration’s conservative credentials against Southern charges that the Adamsites represented a radical threat to slavery.  As governor of Massachusetts and U.S. minister to Britain from the late 1830s through the mid-1840s, Everett found his reform commitments and immediate political context pushing him far enough in the antislavery direction to sound alarm bells among proslavery Southerners.  As a private citizen and then a U.S. Senator, he found his attempts to stake out a stable conservative antislavery position frustrated by the debates leading up to the Compromise of 1850 and ultimately shattered by the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  But he ultimately rallied and creatively pursued potential solutions to the growing sectional crisis, including mobilizing masses of Unionists to help purchase Mount Vernon as a shrine for Union as well as running as the Constitutional Union Party’s vice presidential candidate in 1860.  Not until deep into the Civil War, however, was Everett able finally to achieve a full synthesis of his Unionist, antislavery, and reform commitments.

In a recent book review, Andrew Shankman argued perceptively that “we need to ask how meaningful most claims to oppose slavery were prior to the Civil War.”  I submit that it is not especially helpful for us, as too many historians working in this area are wont to do, to simply dismiss the claims of almost everyone to the right of William Lloyd Garrison.  My biographical exploration of this question as applied to Everett is thus my beginning of an answer to Shankman’s challenge.

Matthew Mason

Brigham Young University

 

Sources:

Howe, Daniel Walker.  The Political Culture of the American Whigs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

________.  What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Mason, Matthew.  “The Maine and Missouri Crisis: Competing Priorities and Northern Slavery Politics in the Early Republic.” Journal of the Early Republic 33 (Winter 2013): 675-700

Potter, David M.  The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.

Richards, Leonard L. The Slave Power: The Free North and Southern Domination, 1780-1860. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.

Shankman, Andrew. Review of Beverly C. Tomek, Colonization and its Discontents. Journal of the Civil War Era 2 (Dec. 2012): 602-05.

Indian Factories and the American Empire of Commerce

Today’s post was written by David A. Nichols, associate professor of history at Indiana State University. It is based on his new book, Engines of Diplomacy: Indian Factories and the Negotiation of American Empire (University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

The American purchase of Louisiana had many consequences, but in the beginning it was mainly an affair of commerce. Thomas Jefferson and his partisans made their deal with Napoleon not to acquire land but to control the Mississippi River, conduit for one-third of the United States’ trade. Commerce also became the means whereby the Jeffersonians, leery of armies and large bureaucracies, planned to realign their new Trans-Mississippi domain’s Native American majority. The Corps of Discovery, one of several parties sent to reconnoiter the new territory, bore additional responsibility for opening peaceful trade with the northern Plains Indians. As Lewis and Clark approached the Continental Divide, another group of federal officers entered the eastern Louisiana Territory to turn vague promises of American trade into reality. These were the employees of the United States’ Indian factory system.

The factories already comprised a growing network of trading posts in the Trans-Appalachian West, selling manufactured goods at cost and buying Indians’ peltries and other wares at market prices. The public traders, or factors, who ran these posts sought to lure Native Americans away from foreign traders and make them economic clients of the United States. Economic clientage would then lead to political alliance. “Commercial connections,” as George Washington argued in 1784, “of all others are the most difficult to dissolve.” Washington would go on to champion a federal trading-house system, modeled on the “truck houses” operated by several British colonies, as a guarantor of peace after the Northwest Indian War (1790-94). His Jeffersonian successors built a dozen more factories, believing that trade and commercial debt would make Indians both friendly to the United States and pliant enough to cede their lands.

By 1802 federal officials, or at least some of them, had begun learning that Native Americans were not mere instruments of someone else’s policy. They were instead a diverse set of peoples with their own economic and social histories. The experiences of factors and their Native American counterparts in the Mississippi Valley drove this point home.

Many Indians living in the Louisiana Territory already had multiple private trading partners, like Bright & Morgan of Arkansas Post and Saint Louis’s Chouteau family. The Osages and Sauks and their neighbors used the federal factories as alternate business places, but still sold most of their peltry to their more familiar private partners. When Native Americans did come to the factories to trade, the exchange did not always go smoothly. Sometimes Indians wanted to sell things that factors refused to buy: in the late 1810s Comanches offered to sell horses (the economic base of their “empire”) to the trading house at Sulphur Fork, but the factor demurred, suspecting that his guests offered stolen property. More often, Indian hunters used the federal trading houses to dump wares that private traders wouldn’t buy, but the more conciliatory factors would. Deerskins were the most noteworthy example: in the early nineteenth century falling European demand for deer leather glutted the market with deerskins, but the Natchitoches factory at still bought 130,000 pounds of them between 1806 and 1811.

Native Americans also sold the factors goods for which there was only a local market: meat, wild rice, and baskets, for example. In this case they were not dumping a commodity but taking part in what James Carson calls a “hospitality economy,” offering food and housewares not only as exchange items but to maintain amicable relationships with the factors. The hospitality exchange was not unilateral: Indian visitors to the factories expected factors to offer them food, lodging, and gifts. One factor, George Sibley of Fort Osage, observed that he “frequently” prepared dinner for “an Osage chief or war captain” and his companions and daughters (“princesses”). Through such pleasantries Native Americans “naturalized” the federal trading houses and turned the factors into fictive kinsmen.

Indians did not hold a monopoly on agency. The factors and their superiors in the War Department made decisions that shaped the western factories’ relationship with their Native American trading partners. They closed trading houses at inconvenient locations, or which had too many private competitors, like Bellefontaine near Saint Louis. Bellefontaine’s two successor posts, Fort Osage in western Missouri and Fort Madison in modern Iowa, enjoyed a far higher volume of business: Sauks and Mesquakies annually sold the latter factory 35,000 pounds of lead, while Fort Osage’s factor George Sibley shipped about 60,000 deerskins and smaller furs over a five-year period. Factors turned both of these newer trading houses into diplomatic assets for their government. Sibley endeavored to connect the Osages, Kansas, and United States in what Andrew Isenberg described as a regional trading alliance, while Fort Madison became valuable enough to the Sauks and Mesquakies that during the War of 1812 federal officials encouraged a faction from these nations to move to central Missouri (away from British influence) by transferring their factory there. After 1815, the War Department continued to sustain advantageous alliances through its trading houses, using the new Spadre Bluffs factory to arm emigrant Cherokees whom the United States supported in their internecine war against the Osages.

In the aggregate, the Indian factories served as points of interethnic contact, reifying the borderland, the shadowy zone of contested influence, that the United States had projected across the Mississippi River. They also became places of dialogue between federal policies and Native American agendas, with the latter frequently superseding the former. Ultimately, though, the trading houses strengthened American influence and power by driving foreign competitors out of business and persuading Native Americans to become, if not clients of the United States, at least their allies. After the War of 1812 a growing white settler population would use that power to curtail Indians’ independence, offering Native Americans cash and goods not for their peltries but their lands, and threatening them with violent displacement if they refused. That those settlers no longer believed they needed to build their power through trade, that they felt the factories had served their purpose, became evident in 1822, when one of their political leaders, Thomas Benton of Missouri, led a successful campaign in Congress to shutter the trading houses. The Louisiana Purchase, or at least the eastern part of it, was changing from an empire of commerce into one of white settlement and Indian exclusion.

 

Sources:

James Taylor Carson, Searching for the Bright Path: The Mississippi Choctaws from Prehistory to Removal (Lincoln, 1999).

Kathleen DuVal, The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent (Philadelphia, 2006).

Pekka Hämäläinen, The Comanche Empire (New Haven, 2008).

Eric Hinderaker, Elusive Empires: Constructing Colonialism in the Ohio Valley (Baltimore, 1997).

Andrew Isenberg, “The Market Revolution in the Borderlands: George Champlin Sibley in Missouri and New Mexico, 1808-1826,” Journal of the Early Republic 21 (Fall 2001): 445-465.

Harriet Tubman and Andrew Jackson: A Match Made in the U.S. Treasury Department

Note: This essay, with its cross-border themes, is being jointly posted by The Republic and Borealia: A Group Blog on Early Canadian History. Our thanks to Denis McKim for coordinating this joint post.Tubman on 20

The net has been abuzz with news of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s announcement that Harriet Tubman will be placed on the front of the $20 bill and Andrew Jackson demoted to the back.  The first African American to ever appear on an American bill, Tubman was a slave-turned-Underground Railroad operative, then an agent for the Union Army during the Civil War.  Jackson was the first U.S. President to be born of common people, and he achieved legendary status as the Hero of New Orleans in the War of 1812.  He was also an unrepentant slave holder and the architect of Indian removal.

Surely, the change to the $20 bill reflects some sort of shift in America’s cultural outlook.  It has been sixty years since the Civil Rights Movement. Black Lives Matter is, perhaps, the next evolution of what African Americans fought for in the 1950s and ’60s.  Tubman was a remarkable woman who fought against and overcame a system of bondage that nearly tore the nation in two.  Yet she could not overcome the inherent racism that allowed that system to flourish and has remained to this very day.  Tubman left the United States and lived in British Canada from 1851 to 1858, disgusted with the racial failings of America.  Such contradictions raise the question of why Secretary Lew is placing her on the $20.

Jackson is equally puzzling.  He actually hated paper money and surely rolled over in his grave when the Treasury Department placed him on the bill in 1928.  Yet America at the time needed a guiding force that reflected democracy and the people.  Jackson certainly fit the bill (pun intended).  Few at the time were troubled about the rights of the enslaved or of Native Americans; Civil Rights was still decades away.

In twenty-first-century America, Tubman is a much more appealing figure than Jackson.  Both, however, have their pluses and minuses when it comes to being a symbol for America important enough to place on the iconic $20 bill.  This essay, collaborated on by a Tubman scholar and a Jackson scholar, seeks to explore some of these contradictions and the legacies of two Americans who were so different, yet are now joined and will soon be in the pockets of so many.

Tubman on the Front

The $20 bill is an unlikely place for Tubman, an American-Canadian transnational, militant direct-action abolitionist, who struggled with finances for the majority of her life. A devoted Christian, moreover, “money is the root of all evil” was quite frankly her perspective on cash. Chaining a liberator to a capitalist tool that oppresses and exploits a wealth of people is paradoxical. Deeming Tubman, as many assert, an “American Hero” is unbefitting as well and it is outright dismissive of British Canada. For some seven years, Tubman fled the United States, with others, for freedom. Settling in the borderland town of St. Catharines, Canada West, she was able to negotiate nations in the same manner as she navigated the American South and North. Tubman explained: “I wouldn’t trust Uncle Sam with my people no longer…I brought ‘em clear off to Canada.”[1] To Tubman and other freedom seekers, Canada was “the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” When Tubman decided to live in the “Sweet land of liberty” again, she settled in Auburn, New York, an ideal location on the edges of the “Burnt Over District.” While the American-Canadian border hardly played a daily role in Central New York, a hint of its presence always loomed and allowed reasonable access to Canada, in case of emergency. The mobile-minded Tubman utilized these means to reenter Canada on occasions, including in wake of the 1859 John Brown insurrection.[2]

This, of course, is not the story the federal government’s $20. They want to project a rigid nationalist message that Tubman was a Union Civil War spy and nurse, not that she was an unpaid veteran who had to petition repeatedly for compensation. In 1899, nearly eighty years old, she received $12 per month for her service as a nurse, and $8 as a widow’s pension for her deceased Union husband Nelson Davis, ironically totaling $20.[3] Neither is the new bill’s intent to divulge that Tubman was conned out of money by a fraud artist, worked as a domestic servant for the elite, borrowed funds from friends, and solicited donations or told Underground Railroad tales for her ever-present need for capital. Perhaps this is part of Tubman’s attraction; like America and the greater portion of its citizenry, she was a debtor. Tubman’s money issues were not all self-inflicted or because she was fiscally frivolous, but it is the systemic problem with capitalism. Harriet Tubman cared for the lowly, fed the sick, clothed the naked, and even built the Tubman Home for the Aged in Auburn. She looked after others, though her assets were meager. Money, the very thing that taunted and pained Tubman throughout her life, is now going to be tied to her very existence by the U.S. Treasury. Should this be rejoiced, ridiculed, or utterly rejected? In addition, while a score of African Americans are cheerful about Tubman on the $20, how does her gender factor in as she stands alone among men on dollars?

Jackson on the Back

AJ on 20Andrew Jackson has always been controversial and perhaps this is the reason for his demotion to the back of the $20 bill. In one sense, it is absurd that Jackson is on paper money anyway. He hated a currency that he considered unstable, easily manipulated, and often worthless.  In the early nineteenth century there was no “American” currency.  That is, none printed by the government and recognized as the accepted medium of exchange. To be clear, Jackson did not hate all banks, as some today wrongly argue.  He hated the monopoly and power of the Bank of the United States and the unstable nature of paper money. Why Jackson was initially placed on the $20 bill is something of a mystery.  There was no discussion of the legislation when it was passed, but many historians surmise that coming at the tail end of the Progressive Era, when the government had been battling monopoly, trusts, and corruption, Jackson made a perfect candidate.  He was the original defender of the people against big business. He famously explained: “The bank…is trying to kill me, but I will kill it.” Jackson’s bank veto was presented as a monumental defense of the people and denunciation of monopoly.

The sea change for Jackson on the $20 bill has actually been waged for years, one of the main rationales being he was a genocidal maniac who destroyed Native American cultures. Look at virtually any website or commentary on the currency issue, and you will see that this is a core complaint. Jackson also was a slaveholder.  He was unrepentant, owned upwards of 150 human beings, and defended the South’s right to maintain an abhorrent institution. Certainly, there is no excuse in today’s time for the racial bigotry of Jackson. Yet to judge him with a 21st century moral absolutism is off the mark. And if Americans decide to deface Jackson for actions against Natives and Blacks, they might as well do the same for most of the Founding Fathers. Take down the Washington Monument, bulldoze Jefferson’s Monticello, remove Madison from all mention when it comes to creation of the Constitution.  Repositioning Jackson to the back of the bill is telling and is better than entire removal. It reflects the changing social mores of our society, but not a complete erasure of our past.  This is as it should be.  Americans should not erase the people and history that they do not like. They can and should judge history and learn from it, but not seek to totally erase it. Perhaps the biggest question is why Tubman is being placed on the front.  She represents the Civil War Era.  The image most fitting to pair with Jackson is a Native American, the people to which he did so much harm.[4]

Conclusion

Since they are destined to be together on the $20 bill, it is best that Tubman and Jackson are back-to-back.  They clearly did not see eye-to-eye on a number of issues, including their outlook on the British. While Jackson hated the British and fought the Redcoats in the American Revolution and during the War of 1812, at New Orleans, Tubman respected the British for abolishing slavery and fashioning Canada for fugitives. The sentiments each held for the British were lasting. Jackson’s elder brother Hugh died in battle during the American Revolution and when the teenage Andrew was held captive and refused to clean the boots of a British officer, the Redcoat swung his sword, cutting Jackson on the head and hand, leaving both physical and psychological scars. Jackson despised the English even in his presidency. Tubman also experienced a head wound as a youngster, but at the hands of an American slaveholder seeking to enlist her help in capturing human property. Tubman resisted, and the overseer threw a weight that struck her in the skull, precipitating epileptic seizures and a lifelong illness. However, she had a mind to employ Canada for safety and, later, after Queen Victoria read Tubman’s narrative and was “pleased with it,” she mailed her a silver medal, which memorialized Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.[5] At Harriet Tubman’s 1913 funeral, the medal from the Queen was placed in her coffin, and an American flag was draped on her casket, suggesting dual national identities.

Yet the transnationalism of Tubman is not a convenient characteristic and is usually avoided when attempting to tell a nationalist American story. That is certainly what the $20 bill is attempting to do. Jackson’s story is equally difficult in the twenty-first century.  His disposition towards Natives, Blacks, and even the British, captures an American spirit that most today do not want to acknowledge. Will keeping Jackson on the $20 and including Tubman force people to remember the past and learn from nineteenth-century injustices? To say the very least, the Tubman-Jackson mismatch is a strange coupling. It is certainly safe to say that it is not “a match made in heaven,” but rather in the U.S. Treasury.

Matthew Warshauer is professor of History at Central Connecticut State University and the author of two books on Jackson: Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law and Andrew Jackson in Context.

dann j. Broyld is professor of Public History at Central Connecticut State University who has worked as a consultant for the forthcoming Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Cambridge, Maryland, to be opened in March 2017. He is currently working on a manuscript with the University of Toronto Press.

[1] Sarah H. Bradford, Harriet Tubman, the Moses of Her People (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.), 22. Reprinted from 1886.

[2] See dann j. Broyld. “Harriet Tubman: Transnationalism and the Land of a Queen in the Late Antebellum,” The Meridians: Feminism, Race, and Transnationalism special issue: “Harriet Tubman: A Legacy of Resistance.” Vol. 12, No. 2, (November 2014) pg. 78-98.

[3] Kate Clifford Larson, Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of An American Hero (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2004), 225-226, 252, 279.

[4] Matthew Warshauer, Andrew Jackson in Context (New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2009).

[5] Beverly Lowry, Harriet Tubman: Imagining a Life (New York, NY: Anchor Books, 2007), 373.