Monday, October 31, 2016

King's Survey: Fittings

In which we see pressing political questions emerge from the business of making shoes

Woman shoe worker, Lynn, Massachusetts

Good morning, Brianna.
Brianna, you are the proud owner of the Yankee Shoe Company in Manchester, New Hampshire.
—Am I.
You are. And I must say, I really admire what you’ve accomplished. You started out 25 years ago as journeyman shoemaker in the nearby town of Derry, moved to this mill city to start your own company fifteen years ago, and here we are in the 1830s with you running a prosperous business employing dozens of people, most of them women. I’m very impressed.
—It’s nothing. Really.
You’re too modest.
—You said she’s employing women. Was that unusual?
Not at all, Sadie. Brianna is like a lot of manufacturers here in New England. It’s a wonderful system, really. She employs young women before they get married and start families. They learn the value of work, and the value of thrift. Essential values, don’t you agree? The parents of her charges are thrilled with her. Now, some of Brianna’s competitors are beginning to change their labor practicesI regret to report that they’re bringing in men who I’m sorry to say are not of entirely of good reputebut I believe Brianna has far too much integrity to ever indulge in such shenanigans. Am I right, Brianna?
—If you say so.
You’re a visionary, Brianna, and not just in your labor practices. You’ve also got some fairly sophisticated ideas about trade. Which is why you’re so devoted to Henry Clay, correct?
—You took the words right of my mouth.
So glad we’re on the same wavelength. Yes, Ethan.
—Remind us again what it means to be a Clay fan.
Funny you should ask. Clay is a great believer in people like Brianna: he believes she represents the future of the American economy. As we’ve discussed in this class, the United States declared its political independence from Britain in 1776, but in the half-century since it’s remained an economic colony, in large measure because it depends on Britain for manufactured goods. Like shoes. Clay wants to strengthen American manufacturing. The best way to do that is by imposing tariffs, or taxes, on foreign goods. This will make them more expensive, and thus less attractive, to consumers.
Let me explain how this works. Brianna here makes a pretty good shoe. She sells them for a dollar a pair. But let’s face it: she’s no competition for shoes from Milan. Those Italians have been making shoes for centuries. They’re goodand because they know what they’re doing, they’re cheap. They also cost a dollar a pair. So what Clay wants is to slap a fifty-cent tariff on the Italian shoes. So they’ll cost $1.50, while Yankee Shoe Company shoes cost a buck: 50% less. So what shoes are you going to buy, Ethan?
—Probably the Yankee shoes. If they’re any good.
Getting better all the time. And you, Jonah?
—Sure. I’ll buy the Yankee shoes.
—I’m not sure I like this.
Oh, Em. What’s not to like?
—Why should I have to pay more?
I don’t understand.
—Oh c’mon, Mr. K., or Mr. Clay, or whoever you are today. Why shouldn’t I be able to buy the good shoes at the low price? I mean, I love you Brianna, but why should pay more for goes that aren’t as good?
—I love you too, Em. Ciao, baby.
No one is saying you can’t buy the shoes, Em. And when
—That’s not the point and you know it.
And when you, and other style mavens out there like Adam
Style maven? What the hell is a style maven?
—It means sexy hot model, Adam. That’s you all over.
—That means so much coming from you, Chris.
As I was saying, when Emily or anyone else who loves those Italian shoes goes ahead and buys them (hey: it’s a free country), the revenue from the tariff will go toward paying for roads and other kinds of national infrastructure that will create a rising tide that lifts all boats. As far as I can tell, no one could be happier about that than Jonquil.
—Oh sure. You can see it all over her face.
Now, now, Adam. Jonquil is one of those sturdy, stolid Missouri cattle farmers. She provides the leather that goes to make Brianna’s shoes. The better Brianna does, the better Jonquil does. And as Brianna’s shoes get even better, even Emily will buy them. And her dollars will stay home.
—That's me. A cattle farmer. 
—Yeah, well, until that day when Brianna's shoes are good comes I still don't see why I should have to, what’s the word I’m looking for …
I think it’s “subsidize.”
Subsidize the American shoe business.
I guess that makes you a Jackson man.
—A Jackson man?
I’m sorry: A Jackson supporter.
—Oh yeah?
Yeah. And here I was thinking you’re an Adams … supporter.
—You know, Mr. K., you never really did get into Jackson’s political beliefs.
No, Sadie. I didn’t. But I will right now. Essentially, Jackson was a Jeffersonian small government man.
—But you said Jefferson hated him.
More like feared him: feared the way ignored the rule of law, and feared the popularity he seemed to have because of it. But there was an underlying continuity there. And it’s important to understand that it’s not simply the small-government thing: that was the means to an end. The end was championing the cause of the little guy (and I guess I do mean guy in this context). When Henry Clay looks at Brianna of the Yankee Shoe Company, he sees a story of upward mobility that’s honorable and worth encouraging. When Jackson looks at Brianna of the Yankee Shoe Company, he sees an oppressor in the making: someone who’s getting an unfair advantage with the tariff that will put her even farther ahead than she already is.
—When you put it that way, I guess he has a point.
So you are a Jacksonian, Em?
—I’m not sure.
Why not?
—Because I don’t feel like I know enough.
You want to know more?
—Desperately, Mr. K. I’m dying to know more about Andrew Jackson.
Oh, well, in that case, you can wait till tomorrow.
—And if I was being sarcastic?
Then you can still wait until tomorrow.
—Glad we sorted out my options.
Next: Breaking Clay

Friday, October 28, 2016

King's Survey: House Work, 1824

In which we see a crazy presidential election inaugurate a new chapter of American history.
Andrew Jackson

So here we are, kids, at the presidential election of 1824, and it’s shaping up to be like no other in American history. Up until this point, there have been a total of five presidentsWashington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroeand all of them, except Adams, had served two terms. All except Adams had been Virginians, too. In each case there was a sense that it was the given person’s turn, and while some elections had been contentious, the Founding Fathers had resisted casting their choice simply as a matter of politics and ideology: for them “party” was a four-letter word. By this logic, John Quincy Adams, or JQA, son of the second president, was next in line. He certainly thought so, and he certainly thought he should not have to fight for a job he very plausibly believed he was best qualified to fill.
But the world was changing by 1824. Though the Federalists were spent as a political force in national politics, there were tensions in the old Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican coalition between generations (the younger crowd was generally more comfortable with a more assertive federal government). There were also new faces on the scene, like Henry Clay of Kentucky, and John Calhoun of South Carolina, the so-called War Hawks who had egged President Madison to declare the War of 1812. There was also William Crawford of Georgia, who would ultimately have to drop out of the race because he fell ill. None of these men were willing to simply defer to JQA.
And then there was Andrew Jackson. He wasn’t exactly a new face in 1824he’d been a national celebrity for about a decade by that pointbut he certainly was an outsider. This was true in a number of respects. For one thing, he was not a professional politician. For another, he was a man of the West, hailing from a state admitted to the Union after the Revolution. Jackson’s policy positions weren’t very clear, but that worked in his favor; his champions read what they wanted into him, and in any case saw him as a new and fresh voice.
So, what do you say, kids? Do we go with Jackson? Or Adams? Or maybe one of the other candidates?
—Tell us a little more about the other guys.
John Calhoun

Well, Adam, I won’t bother with Crawford, since he withdrew. Calhoun is an interesting guy. At this point in his career, he’s a strong nationalist. But Calhoun is from South Carolina, which is a slave state, and, increasingly, a cotton state. The evolving cotton economy has strong ties to the national government (New York banks, for example, lend a lot to plantation owners trying to buy land, slaves, and equipment), but there’s also anxiety about the feds interfering with what they call their “peculiar institution.”
—What’s that?
Slavery. South Carolina, and the South generally, is literally and figuratively becoming ever more invested in it. And that’s affecting its stance on any number of other things. There’s a fear, for example, that giving the federal government the power to do anything in the economy might eventually legitimate its ability to regulate slavery. Calhoun will soon be drawn ever more tightly into the orbit of this slaveocracy, as it was known. But for now, he’s got his eye on the presidential prize. A famous observer at the time, Harriet Martineau, describes Calhoun as “the cast-iron man, who looks as if he had never been born and could never be extinguished.” But a little spoiler, here, kids: this isn’t Calhoun’s time. He will end up vice president, though, and that will prove very interesting.
—Sounds more like a teaser than a spoiler.
Henry Clay

So be it. The guy I really want to talk about now, though, is Henry Clay. Clay, was born in Virginia but moved to Kentucky as a young man because he thought he’d have more opportunities on the frontier (it was Clay who coined the term “self-made man” to describe the widespread reality of upward mobility in the United States, of which he considered himself a prime specimen). Clay was the quintessential happy warrior. Nothing seemed to please him more than a worthy adversary and a good bottle of whiskey. His nicknames“the gamester”; “Prince Hal”; “Great Harry of the West”suggest his playfulness and informality. After serving in the Kentucky legislature, Clay was elected to finish the term of a Senator who left to take another job in 1806. No one seemed to notice, or at any rate mind, that Clay was only 29 years old, a few months shy of the Constitutionally mandated 30. What may be more amazing is that when Clay was elected to the House of Representatives in 1810, he instantly elected Speaker of the House. He was one popular guy.
There was more to Clay than that, though. He was Alexander Hamilton with social skills: a pragmatic visionary. Like Hamilton, he had a vision for his country that he called “the American System,” the details of which I’ll get into later. Suffice it for now to say that Hamilton was like Clay in his belief that manufacturing was the key to the nation’s economic future, as was a strong national government to stitch the nation together with things like roads and canals. The difference was that Hamilton was an avowed elitist; Clay couldn’t afford to be. Not in a country that was rapidly becoming one where any white man could cast a vote. That doesn’t sound like much to you, I know. That glass is half emptymaybe more like 2/3 or ¾ empty. But it was a big deal at the time.
Clay was a slaveholder. He also opposed slavery.
—How could that be?
People can be complicated, Sadie.
—About that? How could you be on both sides of that?
Ask Thomas Jefferson (who’s still around in 1824, by the way). Are you opposed to poverty?
—Of course.
Are you willing leave your home and give up your goods in the name of economic equality? Or to equalize funding for all school districts, which would mean this school is less good than it is now?
—That’s different.
Is it?
Let’s agree to disagree for the moment. Clay was a charter member of the American Colonization Society, which sought to buy freedom for slaves and send them send slaves back to Africa. An impractical idea that passed for philanthropy at the time. Jefferson was a member of that club, too.
—So they were racist.
Yes, Emily. And your epidermis is showing.
—He means your skin, Em.
Right, Adam. To call Henry Clay a racist is to state the ragingly obvious: virtually every white person in the 19th century was racist by our standards. Even abolitionists far more committed than Clay ever was to ending slavery sound painfully condescending. It was a different time with different standards for appropriate attitudes and conduct.
—Maybe so, Mr. K. But at least there were people out there against slavery trying to do the right thing.
Yes, there were, Sadie. And Clay was no saint. He was an ambitious guy trying to do and say what he needed to get elected, trying to find a majoritarian sweet spot in the middle of a road where the middle keeps moving. Which is to say that he was a politician. But people can be politicians in different ways, as we’ll see. Clay was a slaveholder. As was Calhoun, and Crawford, and Jackson. Adams wasn’t: the Adams family was relatively good on the slavery issue. So maybe he has your vote, then? There were certainly peoplenot a lot, but somewho favored him for that reason. A lot of them were women. But of course women couldn’t vote.
—Yeah, Adams gets my vote.
Fair enough. Any other takers?  Raise your hands. Adam, I see we have you. And Em. And Brianna, Ethan, and Jonquil. Brianna and Chris. Looks like JQA wins this election.
—I don’t really get Jackson’s appeal.
Really, Yin? Why is that?
—Well, I get that he’s a soldier who’s won lots of battles. And that he’s new. But what was so great about him?
Let me tell you a little story that might help. Jackson had a wife, Rachel, whom he adored. She had been married. But her first husband left her and disappeared without a trace (not all that uncommon at the time). After a decent interval, she and Jackson married. But then her first husband, to whom she was still legally married, returned. Not a big deal: they worked it all out. But for a time, Jackson was technically a bigamist. There was a guy named Charles Dickinson who made fun of Jackson about this. So he challenged him to a duel.
Right. You know the drill. Dickinson gets the first shot. He aims, fires, hits Jackson in the chest. And Jackson just stands there.
—Wait. Really? How can that be?
Now it’s Jackson’s turn. He coolly takes aim, fires, and kills Dickinson. Only then, after Dickinson is dead, does Jackson fall to the ground, injured: He wasn’t going to give that son of a bitch the satisfaction of knowing he was hurt. Jackson would carry that bullet around for the rest of his life.
—Don’t fuck with me, Dickinson.
You got it. Old Hickory: tough as nails. Such stories about Jackson were legendary. That help, Yin?
—I guess. Not really my thing. But I guess it would appeal to a lot of men at the time.
Exactly. Clay may have been likeable (maybe a little too likeable; there was sometimes a perception that Clay was on the slick side). But Jackson was thrillingly his own man, an embodiment of the rugged individualism that was emerging as a widespread ideal of the time. Anyway, the presidential election of 1824 was unusual from start to finish. After the votes came in, two things were clear: Jackson had the most popular votes, but he didn’t have enough votes in the Electoral College. Does anybody remember what happens in that case?
Anyone? Had it ever happened before?
—Oh yeah. With Jefferson.
Good, Jonah. Can you remember how that went?
—There was the whole Hamilton thing.
Right. But what does the Constitution say?
—There’s a vote in Congress.
Yes. In the House of Representatives. Each state delegation decides on a candidate. As you might imagine, the jockeying was intense. But when the dust settled, two things had happened: Adams won the Electoral College. And Clay was announced as the new Secretary of State.
—So they made a deal.
Oh no no no, Ethan. Not as far as the Jackson camp was concerned. This was no mere deal. It was a corrupt bargain. A massive fraud perpetrated on the American people.
—That seems a little much.
Yes, Sadie, it does. And it did then, to a lot of people. Certainly there was no law against a deal between Adams and Clay, and there had been many like it before and since. But the fact that Jackson had been deprived of the presidency despite winning a majority of the votes rankled a lot of people. Of course, it was precisely to stop people like himpeople who might be massively popular, but also deeply troubling to the elites who run the countrythat the Electoral College had been created for the first place. It was a circuit breaker, a device to prevent a dangerous power surge. It worked precisely as it was supposed to, much to the relief of Jefferson and Old Man Adams, who was approaching ninety years old. It was during JQA’s presidency, on July 4, 1826 that both Adams and Jefferson died.
—The same day!
Yes. Adams’s dying words were, “Jefferson survives.” (He’d died a few hours earlier.)
—So what happened after John Quincy Adams became president?
John Quincy Adams
JQA had a simply miserable presidency. Let’s face it: he might have your vote, but the guy was an Adams, after all. JQA had many gifts, but a common touch wasn’t one of them, and in this new day and age, that was a real problem. Adams wanted things like a national university, and major infrastructure projects like a system of lighthouses that were simply out of touch with the tenor of his times (though in certain respects you might say he was ahead of his time). But in another sense, none of this mattered. Jackson supporters dogged him all through the mid-1820s, culminating in a complicated maneuver that resulted in a tariff they hatedit was known as the Tariff of Abominationsas part of a scheme to weaken Adams. Henry Clay tried to help out by dredging up the Rachel Jackson bigamy story, and some stories about Jackson ordering he execution of American soldiers for disciplinary infractions. (A Jackson supporter came up with a story that JQA procured women for the Tsar of Russia, which really stretches credulity.) But it was no use. When the presidential election of 1828 came along, JQA was toast. He was crushed by Jackson.

—Don’t fuck with me, John fucking Quincy fucking Adams!
Ahem. It was a new day in American politics. The inauguration of Jackson in 1829 was followed by a party of the kind the nation had never seenby which I mean a frat party. Revelers wrecked the White House furniture. A gigantic wheel of cheese
Yup. A huge wheel of cheese was rolled up on the White House lawn. Jackson himself slipped out during the festivities. But the party raged on. And party, by the way, was no longer a four-letter word. Jackson fired all the old-timers in senior positions and brought in his own people, his so-called Kitchen Cabinet. From this point on, it became an accepted fact of American politics: a new administration meant jobs for a president’s supporters.
The question now was what Jackson was going to do now that he was in power. And on that count there were a lot of curious people. I hope you’re one of them. Because I’ve still got a few things to tell you.
Next: Shoe story

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

King's Survey: Don't #$%&* with Me!


In which we see how the man who broke the mold of the Founding Fathers became the scariest, and most exciting, man in U.S. history

Did you all bring $20 bills? Hold them up.
—We’re going to get these back, right? My mom was worried.
Right, Ethan. Actually, I’m not collecting them. I just asked you to bring them today for a little exercise we’re going to do. Looks like a few of you don’t have one. That’s OK. You can share. Go ahead and put those bills on your desks. Now look at the figure in the middle of them. What do you see?
Yes. That’s what it says: Andrew Jackson. Seventh president of the United States. But what I’m really asking is what you see. What do you make of this portrait?
—Great hair.
—It is great hair.
—Looks like he’s wearing a cape.
—Is that a white collar under his shirt? And is that a tie sticking out between the cape?
—They didn’t wear ties back then.
—Back when?
—When Jackson was president.
—When was that?
—I dunno. A 150 or so years ago.
How about his face? What do you see in his expression?
—He looks pretty serious.
—His lips are tight. What’s the expression? His lips are pursed.
—I’m having trouble reading his eyes. He’s staring off into the distance. But I can’t quite tell how he feels about what he’s seeing.
Well, now, that’s an interesting question, Yin. Wait a second; let me get over to the Smart Board. I’m going to call up someone else on U.S. currencyAlexander Hamilton.
—I like Jackson’s hair better.
—Yeah, but Hamilton is kind of hot.800px-Alexander_Hamilton_portrait_by_John_Trumbull_1806
—Oh, he is.
—He’s a bastard.
—Oh, Ethan.
—No, literally. His mother wasn’t married when he was born.
—Yeah, yeah, we know. The “oh” was “how lame.”
Sadie, how would you characterize Hamilton’s expression compared with Jackson’s?
—Hamilton seems a little nicer. His lips look more like he’s smiling.
And his eyes?
—He seems …kinder.
OK, though I’ll note that a lot of people thought Hamilton was a bastard … in a different sense of the term. Anyway, here’s Abraham Lincoln on the $5 bill. What about his expression?
—Well, he looks serious, too. But I see kindness in his eyes as well. His eyes are darker than Hamilton’s. Maybe that’s why he seems warmer.
But Jackson’s eyes are dark.
—Yeah, but they’re harder to read. Maybe they’re just plain harder.
I agree. A sense of mystery. And hardness. You know what his nickname was? “Old Hickory.” You know why? Because hickory is one of the hardest woods in the forest. When I look at this portrait, I hear Andrew Jackson speaking. And do you know what I hear him say?
“Don’t fuck with me.”
—Mr. Abraham King! I am shocked. Shocked!
Don’t tell on me, Em.
—Your secret is safe with me, Mr. K. Sadie here is another question. Those eyes! Those hard eyes! (Stop laughing, Sadie.) I think we may have to swear some kind of blood oath with every member of this class. Either that, or pay a bribe. I’m thinking 20 bucks apiece should do it.
You’re so kind, Em.
—Just trying to help out.
I appreciate that. Fortunately, I have an understanding with Dr. Devens about this. I’ve explained to her that I have a pedagogical purpose in using the term “Don’t fuck with me” in the context of Andrew Jackson. Fortunately, she charges less than I would have to pay all of you. (Just kidding.)
So why do I want to use the phrase “Don’t fuck with me” in regard to Andrew Jackson? As far as I know, Jackson himself never spoke these words, which I believe are of distinctly 20th century vintage. It’s because I think it captures the visceral power and appeal of Jackson in way 21st century adolescents can understand. Jackson was one of the dominant figuresperhaps more accurately, he was one of the most dominant personalities­—in the 19th century United States. Maybe in U.S. history generally. He’s on his way out these days, and will soon be vanishing from the $20 bill. I hope we can talk a little about that. But first I want to explain the series of events that led to him being put on that bill in the first place.
You may remember we talked a little about Jackson already, when we did the War of 1812. Anybody recall that?
—He was the general at the Battle of New Orleans. Which the Americans won.
Good, Jonah. Anybody remember the rest of his background? No? Let me remind youwell, let me round out the picture a little bit. Jackson was born in Carolina (note I don’t specify North or South, because as far as I can tell no one knows; his family lived in the interior, near Georgia, where the borders weren’t clear) in 1767. Jackson’s father died a few weeks before he was born. He was nine years old at the time of the Declaration of Independence. As you may remember, the center of the action in the Revolutionary War shifted to the South in 1780, when Jackson was thirteen. He enlisted in a local militia with his brothers. One brother was killed in battle; Jackson and his other brother were captured and imprisoned, where they caught smallpox. Their mother managed to get them out, but his brother died soon after, and his mother perished tending to wounded soldiers shortly after the Battle of Yorktown. Jackson was now an orphan, and swore his hatred of the British for the rest of his life. He spent the rest of his childhood with two uncles, piecing together enough of an education to present himself as a country lawyer (there were no law schools in those days).
Jackson was a child of the American frontier, and among the first pioneers to settle what became Tennessee, the 15th state in the Union in 1796 (after Kentucky and Vermont followed the first 13 as a pair five years earlier). Jackson was one of the founders of the city of Memphis. I’m a little murky on the details of a lot of this, in part because I’m no Jackson scholar, but also because, well, there’s just plain a lot of murkiness surrounding this. Seems like there were deals, and threats, involving the Cherokee and Chickasaw Indians. Jackson soon became a major slaveholder as well.
Jackson may have been a lawyer and a businessman, but the work for which he was best known was as a soldier. He was a member of the Tennessee militia when the War of 1812 broke out. As was true of the Revolution, the War of 1812 had lots of political and military implications for U.S. relations with Native American people. Many Indians, sick of literally getting pushed around, saw the war as an opportunity. In 1813, a faction of the Creek Indians known as the Red Sticks, led by a chief named Red Eagle, massacred hundreds of white and black settlers at Fort Mims, near modern-day Mobile, Alabama. Jackson was charged with defeating the Red Sticks, and led U.S. forces to victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Though he let Red Eagle live, he imposed harsh terms on the Red Sticks. The Creeks had a term for him, “Jacksa Chula Harjo” which translates to, "Jackson, old and fierce.”
—Don’t fuck with me.
Exactly, Chris. From there, Jackson went to New Orleans, where he facedand very soundly defeateda larger British force that landed just after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed (but before news had crossed the ocean). The Brits described Jackson as “tough as hickory,” and the name stuck. Jackson became internationally famous.
—Don’t fuck with me, Great Britain.
You’ve got it. In the years that followed, tensions remained in the American southwestby which I mean Georgia, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle, parts of which were claimed by the United States, though most of Florida belonged to Spain. There were multiracial, multinational, attacks back and forth borders. (By way of illustration, Jackson’s adversary Red Eagle was partly white, and I’ll remind you that the army that Jackson led in New Orleans was multiracial.) In 1817, Jackson was ordered to fight the Seminole Indians, who made raids across the Spanish Florida border, as well as preventing fugitive slaves from escaping to Florida. In retaliation for a Seminole attack, Jackson proceeded to flagrantly violate Spanish sovereignty in Florida, capturing the city of Pensacola and putting two Brits who had collaborated with the Seminole to death.
—Don’t fuck with me, Seminoles!
—Don’t fuck with me Spain! Protect your fucking border!
—Don’t fuck with me, Great Britain!
—We already said that.
—Don’t double fuck with me, Great Britain!
—This is getting to be a little much.
—Isn’t that the point?
It is, Em, though I will confess to some ambivalence in encouraging our loose tongues with my little Jackson slogan. All joking aside, Jackson’s brazen disregard of international law, not to mention basic humanitarian decency, is raising alarm in Washington. There are some members of the presidential administration of James Monroe, who succeeded James Madison after the War of 1812, who want Jackson to be punished for his transgressions. Monroe himself has been giving mixed signals on Jackson’s behavior. In what will be one of the great ironies of American history, though, Jackson has an influential champion: Secretary of State John Quincy Adams.
Let me take a minute here and talk about Adams. First of all, do you recognize the name?
—Is he related to John Adams? His son, maybe?
That’s right, Ethan. JQA, as he was known, was born in 1767, Just like Jackson. But while Jackson’s life was hardscrabble and violent, JQA’s childhood was positively aristocratic by comparison. The second child and oldest son of the formidable John and Abigail, JQA was a child prodigy. He was seven years old when his mother took him to witness the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. He was ten when his father took him to Paris as part of the American delegation seeking recognition from France (the ship that father and son sailed on was chased by the British). At 14, he was appointed to serve as a translator (to French, the language of diplomacy) on a mission to Russia. (He would later hang out with his friend, the Emperor Alexander I, when Napoleon invaded that country.) JQA worked as his father’s secretary before returning to the states to attend Harvardafraid he was getting a little too refined, his parents wanted him to attend a local schooland train as a lawyer. President Washington appointed him as the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands when he was still in his twenties. Over the course of the next twenty years, he held a series of posts, among them a professorship at Harvard and a seat as the United States Senator from Massachusetts. He turned down a slot on the Supreme Court. During the Monroe Administration, JQA was Secretary of Statea position that already long been regarded as a springboard to the presidency.
—You said Adams stood up for Jackson?
Well not quite in those words, Yin.
—Seems odd that a diplomat would defend Jackson’s behavior.
It is odd. But diplomats and politicians are often juggling multiple agendas, and Adams senses opportunity in Jackson’s behavior. American leaders had been trying for years to get Spain to sell Florida to the United States without success. But Spain’s grip on this piece of North American territory was insecure, as attested by the porousness of a border routinely crossed by Native Americans, runaway African Americans, and now Jackson himself. Adams positioned himself as good cop to Jackson’s bad cop: maybe you should sell Florida while you still can, before the situation gets out of hand and a loose cannon like Jackson does something we may all regret. The fruit of such negotiations is the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, in which Florida’s territory is finally transferred to the United States. Not that this pacifies the region. The U.S. army will continue fighting in Florida for the next quarter century, notably two more wars against the Seminoles and their great multiracial leader Osceola, who successfully resisted U.S. control until his capture in 1837, when he was taken despite a flag of truce.
—Is that how we get the University of Florida Seminoles?
It is, Jonah. And a county in Florida that’s named after Osceola.
—Where is that? Is it near Disneyworld?
Naturally, Kylie. In any event, JQA’s machinations in Florida were of a piece with his broader foreign policy agenda of enhancing U.S. standing in the Western Hemisphere generally. It was during the Monroe administration that the British government approached the United States and said, basically: “Hey: you don’t want other European powers reasserting themselves in the Americas and neither do we. We could make a statement to this effect, but it would look better if we did it togetherBritain as the big kid on the block, and the United States as the little guy. What do you think?” It was Adams who framed the U.S. response for the Monroe Administration, which was for the United States to go ahead and make its statement on its own in what became known as the Monroe Doctrine, which said that the U.S. would regard any outside power coming into the region as an act of aggression requiring intervention. Since this stance suited Britain’s position in the region, it tacitly agreedand lent its considerable naval power to make the Monroe Doctrine effective in a way the United States alone never could. It marked the rapprochement between the U.S. and Britain that would gradually strengthen over the course of the next century.
—What’s Andrew Jackson doing while all this is going on?
Getting ready to become president, Jonah.
—When is this?
—That’s when Jackson becomes president?
That’s not what I said.
—So when did he?
Stay tuned.
House work: the presidential election of 1824

Monday, October 24, 2016

King's Survey: Compromised Situation


In which we see a nation and a political, and moral, crossroads

—What about it?
It’s the inescapable subject of American history, Sadie. There are so many things to talk about, not all of which relate directly to slavery. But sooner or later we’re always led back to it. It’s always part of the story.
—And where in the story are we?
Well, we’re in 1819, Emily. By this point the nature of American slavery had really changed since the Constitution had been ratified thirty years earlier. You’ll remember that it was a contentious issue. But the Founding Fathers expected it to die out. Then, in the 1790s there was a technology game-changer: Connecticut inventor Eli Whitney unveiled his Cotton Engine, or Cotton gin. Before the cotton gin came along, it had been very tedious and difficult to remove the seeds from cotton, making it an impractical as a crop. But now, suddenly, it’s something like ten times easier to harvest cotton in such a way that it can be turned into cloth. And the appetite for it is insatiable. That’s especially true in England, where the Industrial Revolution has gotten underway and textile factories are at the core of it.
Even with this new invention, cotton remains a very labor-intensive crop. Now, suddenly, the demands for cheap labor becomes extremely insistent. In places like England (and increasingly, in the Northern states), low-paid factory work becomes widespread. In the South, though the new cotton economy greatly enhances the value and demand for slavery. This is especially true because the new western lands that are opening upAlabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, western Tennesseehave rich soil that can sustain cotton (though cotton also has a way of wearing out soil). The heart of this region, by the way, is known collectively as the Mississippi Delta: another way in which rivers are central to the fate of American civilization.
After bottoming out in the 1790s, slavery begins growing again in the early nineteenth century. Even places not part of the new boom, like Virginia, are benefiting by exporting their slaves to these new slave states. Now we’re beginning to see massive new plantations, worked by hundreds of slaves. There were never all that many of themonly one quarter of Southern white families owned slaves at all, and only about 2% of slave owners fell into the plantation categorybut they were prominent in terms of their visibility and influence.
Which bring us back to the source of that big river, Missouri. Look at this map. Where is Missouri?
—Well, it looks like it’s pretty much in the middle.
Right. But what’s around it in 1819, which is were we are now?
—Well, there’s Illinois—
Right, Jonah, which became a state in 1818
—And Tennessee. And it looks like a little piece of Kentucky. And some territory that isn’t anything yet.
Yes. Below it is Arkansas, which will become a state in 1836. Above it is Iowa, which came into the Union in 1846. To the left, or west of it is the Kansas-Nebraska territory, about which we’ll have a lot more to say later. But tell me, Jonah, are Kentucky and Tennessee slave states or free states?
—Slave states?
Right. And Illinois?
—A free state?
Yes, though there are transit laws in Illinois that allow slaveholders to keep their “property” for up to a year there. So based on what you just told me, do you think Missouri, which as applied for admission to the Union, should be a slave state or a free state?
—Well, I don’t think any state should be a slave state.
No. I mean as a matter of geography: would you think Missouri would logically be slave territory or free territory?
—I can’t really tell.
Good answer. In fact, Missouri, whose eastern border is marked by the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, could really go either way. It not a cotton powerhouse like Mississippi, which entered the Union in 1817, or Alabama, which does so in 1819. But you can profitably deploy slaves there in way that would harder than it would, in, say, Vermont (remember that most slaves in New England were typically individual household servants, not farm workers). I think we can say that slavery is a workable proposition from an economic standpoint. I think we can also say that it’s not a workable proposition from a moral standpoint, though, alas, morality is not as often a basis of action as we might like. My question to you at the moment is this: is slavery workable from a political standpoint?
—This is another one of your hard questions, Mr. K. How are we supposed to know?
What do you want to know, Sadie? What would help you figure this out?
—I’m not sure. Here’s a question: How many free states and slave states are there now?
At this point, there are eleven free states and ten slave states. Why do you ask? Have I just given you an argument for Missouri to come in as a slave state?
—You know, you’re making me think that was a bad question. We shouldn’t be thinking this way.
Well, again, Sadie: we shouldn’t be thinking in these terms morally. But should we not be thinking of them politically?
—I think Sadie’s right. The conversation should be about ending slavery entirely. That’s what would really be best for the country.
Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Representative James Tallmadge of New York.
—That’s funny. He looks like Brianna to me.
Yeah, well, appearances can be deceiving. Representative Tallmadge has just introduced a bill into the House that would ban slavery from Missouri. Do we all support it? Looks like we do. The idea has gotten extra support from Senator Rufus King of New York, a signer of the Constitution, who has told us that he sees no reason why this can’t be done legally.
—That’s funny. He looks like Chris to me.
—Just call me King, guys. Senator King.
Yeah, well, appearances can be deceiving. Here’s the problem: Southerners in Congress are militantly against the idea. They get strong support from former president Thomas Jefferson, who calls the controversy “a firebell in the night” and counsels the slaveholding states to hold firm.
—They’re always doing this.
Are you saying we should call their bluff, Sadie? Are you prepared to let the Union break up over it?
You know, we’ve been here before. Back in 1790, a group of Quakers brought a petition before Congress to end slavery. Benjamin Franklin, at the very end of his life, supported the idea as president of the President of the Abolitionist Society. But James Madison, who was Speaker of the House, managed to sweep the measure under the rug, in part because he was afraid the country was too fragile for such a debate so soon after the struggle to adopt the Constitution, which had almost fallen apart over slavery. Given that you all know there was a Civil War, do you think we would have been better off had we had it out back then?
—No way.
You first, BriI mean Representative Tallmadge.
—It was always wrong. And the longer you wait the worse it is. Look at the Civil War. That was a disaster.
—The country was just too fragile. Slavery was wrong, was terrible. But you act too hard and too fast and you wreck everything.
—Look at the wreck that happened because you didn’t do anything!
Adam, Benjamin Franklin thought the country could handle it. Doesn’t that count for something?
—How old was Franklin at that point?
He was about 84 years old. What does that have to do anything?
—Well, he was not really that active at that point, was he? James Madison was really running things then.
—Didn’t Madison own slaves?
Yes, he did, Brianna/Tallmadge.
—So of course he wants to prevent anything from happening!
Adam: let me ask you this: If we assume for the moment that Madison was right, and the country couldn’t handle it in 1790, what about thirty years later? Was the country strong enough for a showdown in 1820?
—That’s really hard to say.
It is. We of course can’t test out that scenario. And it was at least as hard a call for people at the time, too. It’s the kind of situation people have to grapple with often: do we have it out now? Do we wait? There are no clear-cut answers.
—So what ended up happening?
The man of the hour turned out to be Henry Clay, about whom I’m going to have more to say in the coming days. Clay was the Speaker of the House in 1819-20. He crafts a proposal that works like this: We bring Missouri in as a slave state. Then we break off Maine, which has long been an appendage of Massachusetts, and bring it in as a free state in the name of balance. Then we draw a line that begins at the southern border of Missourito be known as the 36°30′ line, referring to its latitude. Territories that come into the Union below that line (Arkansas, 1836) will be slave states, while those above it (Michigan, 1837) will be free states. As you can see, Missouri juts pretty far North. But most of the states that come in after this, among them Wisconsin and Iowa, will be free states. Crisis averted?
—More like crisis postponed.
But maybe Clay bought time, Sadie? We know a war came. But maybe better leadership later might have brought about a better outcome?
—I don’t think so. In any event, look what happened: now slavery is in more areas than it was before. It’s more legal. How is that a good thing?
Hard to argue with that rhetorical question. What I will observe, though, is that there was a widespread sense of relief as a result of the deal, which has been known both as the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1820. There was anger, resentment, and sorrow among African Americans and their supporters. But most people were glad to focus on something elseanything else.
We’re going to shift our gaze, too. But we can never get too far away from this. It haunts us. Always.
Next: Hard as Hickory