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The Northern and Southern United States circa 1850: immigration and slavery

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Territorial expansion[edit | edit source]

Forcible displacement of Amerindians[edit | edit source]

A pyramid of buffalo skulls for use as fertilizer in the mid-1870s.

From 1820 to 1850 the territory of the United States continued to expand west and south. From the 1830's the first big push is the forced displacement of the Native American nations to Oklahoma and the new territories acquired after Napoleon's sale of Louisiana. These displacements were forced and accompanied by the massacre of the buffaloes.

The balance between slave states and free states[edit | edit source]

The expansion from west to east to south challenges the precarious balance between slave and non-slave states reminds us of the compromise of Missouri declared a free state against the creation of the state of Maine taken from the non-slave state of Massachusetts in order to maintain the balance in the senate.

The text of the Texas Declaration of Independence.

The expansion against Mexico calls into question the question of balance. As early as 1835, 35,000 Anglo-Saxons from the United States were established in Texas, which was then Mexican with their slaves in the push for cotton expansion and despite the fact that in 1829 slavery was abolished in Mexico. These new migrants oppressed native Mexicans and their slaves. In 1836, the Anglo-Saxons waged war on the Mexican troops fighting them and proclaimed the independence of the Slavery Republic of Texas while demanding annexation to the United States.[8] The U.S. Congress recognizes the independence of Texas, but refuses to annex it, as this would shift the balance in favor of slavery in the Senate.[9][10][11][12][13][14][15]

James Knox Polk (1795-1849) was the eleventh president of the United States. He was elected for a term from 1845 to 1849.

En même temps dans l’Oregon on a une grande poussée contre les Amérindiens qui y habitent encore et une colonisation qui est déclarée territoire libre de l’esclavage.

Faced with this, the states of the slave-owning South reacted strongly, managing to unite around the candidacy of a southern, slave-owning and expansionist president named James Polk, who was elected president in 1844.[16][17]

Under Polk, Florida and Texas joined the Union as states, in 1846 the United States declared war on Mexico against the advice of the northern states.[18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25]

Prise de Mexico par les troupes U.S. par Carl Nebel dans The War Between the United States and Mexico, Illustrated (1851).

The Mexican War will add California, Arizona and New Mexico in return for the payment of $15 million to Mexico. The California Gold Rush follows, attracting thousands of Chinese to settle on the west coast of the United States.[26][27]

During the conquest of the West, hundreds of Indians were massacred at the same time as Oregon was annexed. The territory practically becomes the territory of the present United States. Many questions are asked.

We continue to have a two-party system, but the system is changing. In 1828, we went from a system where we had the Republican Democrats who wanted to limit federal power versus the federalists who wanted a strong federal government to a system where we had the Democrats who were the party of the slave planters in the south, in reaction to the racism of Irish immigrants becoming citizens in the north, the federalist party became the Whig Party and took the name of the Republican Party representing industry and commerce in the northeast.

What must be seen is that both parties are in favour of the conquest of the west, which is considered to be a natural part of the United States.[28][29]

Thesis of the Manifest Destiny of the United States (1845)[edit | edit source]

This work, painted around 1872 by John Gast entitled "American Progress" is an allegorical representation of "Manifest Destiny". In this scene, an angelic woman (sometimes identified as Columbia, the personification of the United States in the nineteenth century, carries the light of "civilization" to the West with the American settlers, wiring the telegraph in its wake. Native Americans and wild animals flee to the darkness of the Wild West.

It was in this context that in 1845 that O’Sullivan publishes an article whose thesis will become central to U.S. foreign policy.[30][31][32].

The Manifest destiny of the United States, the destiny to extend their Anglo-Saxon power and population was decided by the "divine providence" that gave it this territory to grow and progress.[33][34] This thesis has a racist dimension, as it argues that the history of the United States demonstrates the indisputable superiority intended by the god of the Anglo-Saxons over any other race destined to be either subdued or annihilated in the extension of the white population. Among the sub-races are the Indians, the enslaved Africans, the Mexicans, and all the mestizos.

After the annexation of the entire south and southwestern Mexico by the United States, the decision was more or less taken to stop massively colonizing new American lands. This does not mean that the thesis of manifest destiny stops.

The thesis will continue in the form of a policy of domination by the United States in the Caribbean and in the rest of the Americas and then all over the planet without the need for annexation. It is another domination, economic, financial and military.

This thesis is fading at this point in history, because they had tried, especially during the war against the British in 1812, which was lost, to expand to the North, so they will agree to stop their border expansion..

1850: Fragile Compromise between Slave and Free States[edit | edit source]

January 29, 1850: Henry Clay introduces compromise in the Senate.

The territory is complex between slave states in the south and states that abolished slavery in the east, at the same time there are new territories under Napoleon's unconquered purchases and territories taken from California.

There is the problem of what to do with the balance between slave and non-slave states. What is at stake is that if there is a majority of slaveholding states they would have a majority in the senate that could allow slavery to be legalized to the whole territory, on the contrary a majority of non-slaveholding states could allow slavery to be abolished to the whole territory.

In 1850, a new understanding was adopted by Congress admitting California as a non-slavery state but leaving the question open for new territories. This compromise did not last long, as the question of slavery dominated politics until the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1861, who was an abolitionist leading to the Civil War.[35][36][37][38][39][40][41]

The North: market revolution and immigration[edit | edit source]

The market revolution[edit | edit source]

The United States in 1820.
The New American Railroads, anonymous photograph of 1860.

During the years from 1820 to 1860, the differences between the northern and southern states continued to grow. The North rapidly urbanized and industrialized, and in the middle of the 19th century the "Market Revolution" took place.

It is a revolution that includes the rapid development of transport. Unlike the Latin American States, it is not only transport for export, but also for the integration of the States in a logic of territorial integration in order to integrate the North with the South and the East with the West.

Commercialization is the passage from the semi-autonomy of families and communities, it is the passage from barter to the exchange of goods in payment in money. Until then, settler communities lived on the margins of trade and money.

Industrialization is the shift from manual to machine production and also the adoption of the idea of mass-produced spare parts.

Industrialization is also marked by the construction of large industries where mass production will take place with the effect of social change as the percentage of wage-earners in the total labour force rises from 10% in 1800 to 40% in 1860.

Evolution of economic growth in the United States (1700-1850).

Almost all of the northeast has in fact become a wage-earning region, distancing itself from the ideal of the founding myth of the United States as the free and self-sufficient peasant settlers on its land. Among the wage earners, almost half are women, young girls who work for a few years in the textile industries before getting married. These women work in these factories, with that they contribute to the family income, who have money to buy things.

Both women and men work during huge days while at night many study. The women also work with home contracts with factories, paid with a miserable salary, especially to sew clothes with Singer machines. This will change the economy of the families, because women will do domestic work, but also sewing to produce additional income.

The profession of schoolteacher developed thanks to the development of the public school more compatible with the ideal of motherhood more compatible with bourgeois ideology.

In the working class world, exploitation is extremely strong, the means of struggle are limited; they are not very effective, because as in Latin America there is an abundance of workers, but for different reasons.

Immigration[edit | edit source]

Little Italy in New York, ca.1900.
Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, 1902.

There is a demographic explosion, because the population already present is reproducing at high rates and between 1820 and 1860 there is the arrival of 5 million immigrants who contribute to this explosion. In total, the population increases from 5.3 million in 1800 to 31.5 million in 1860, a sixfold increase.

Immigrants fleeing Europe first from the Napoleonic Wars[42] then the Europe of industrialisation, extreme misery and the Europe of the destruction of agriculture and the small peasantry; in 1848 it is not only the spring of the peoples, but also the year of the Communist Party manifesto by Marx and Engels to denounce working conditions. There were also famines and religious persecution.

For the Irish, it is also the period of the potato disease that killed 1 million Irish people between 1845 and 1849. Thus the Irish will contribute 45% to immigration between 1830 and 1860.

The routes taken by the Underground Railroad.

Some of these immigrants, mainly Germans and Scandinavians, settled in the still rural Midwest. Others, very poor and with no agricultural experience, remain in the port cities, especially New York and Boston. At the time, half of the inhabitants of New York were immigrants, while in Boston immigrants made up a third of the population.

The other migration is that of the migration of blacks from the south who are almost only free blacks who leave the south which is becoming more and more enslaved and a few hundred fugitive slaves who take refuge in the north thanks to the "underground railroad" which is a secret network of passages through forests and protected shelters set up in particular by the Quakers.[43][44][45][46][47]

The gap between rich and poor[edit | edit source]

The gap between rich and poor is widening. The poor are piling up in the slums of the cities at the same time as an aristocracy of financiers and multimillionaires is being formed, these are families who come from the elite of merchants who already existed during the colonial period, including the Roosevelt family[48][49]and the Whitney[50][51]. It was at this time that New York's Central Park was built, then reserved for the rich.

Central Park during its construction.Photograph by Victor Prevost, 1862.

In 1860, the richest 5 percent of U.S. families owned more than half of the nation's wealth. Today, 2 percent of humanity owns 50 percent of the wealth, and conversely, 50 percent of humanity owns only 1 percent of the world's wealth.

In cities like New York we find extremes of poverty and wealth leading to violence and riots against the poorest and most vulnerable, including Irish and black people. As a result of these events the Irish people voted overwhelmingly Democrats in reaction to the Republicans; the origin of the Kennedy dynasty takes root at this time..[52][53]

Free African-Americans are the other major victims of this era, as they are accused of saturating the labour market, driving down wages and are targeted in urban riots; segregation and racism also dominate in the North. This is a paradox, because as the number of states in the Union increases, a greater proportion of states have democratised male suffrage, but at the same time a greater proportion of states exclude blacks from voting because of their race.

In 1850 only Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine granted equality to blacks. In Massachusetts, blacks could testify, in California they could not testify against whites, in all northern states they were segregated or excluded from certain public places as well as from almost all skilled and industrial jobs and labor associations.

Blacks are forced to live in ghettos and, like the Irish, to create their own institutions and accept much lower-paying jobs. Despite all this, the number of blacks in the North is increasing considerably, especially in Philadelphia, New York and Cincinnati, even though they represent only 2% of the total population.

The South: black slavery and white privilege[edit | edit source]

In the southern United States, the years from 1800 to 1860 were years of great growth and prosperity for some. New lands were conquered and populated by free people and slaves.

Cotton King[edit | edit source]

Panoramic photograph of a cotton plantation from 1907, titled "King Cotton".

This is the era of the Cotton King because the textile industry in England and the northern United States is booming, and the demand for cotton continues to grow.

With the invention of the cotton ginning machine, production increased and became more and more technical as cotton-producing land expanded along with the number of slaves.

A cotton seeder (1869).

In 1800, cotton accounted for only 7% of US exports, in 1820 32% and in 1850 58%. This shows the enormous weight the Southern states have in national politics and economy. At the same time, the number of slaves multiplied: 460,000 in 1770 in the thirteen colonies, 1.5 million in 1820 and more than 4 million in 1860. The import of slaves remained illegal after the prohibition in 1808.

The main explanation is natural growth, as living conditions are better and slaves live in family huts. All these slaves will reach the huge figure of 4 million on the eve of the Civil War, of which 2 million work in the cotton plantations.

Once again we see the archaic and modern modes of production side by side. The slaves live in rudimentary conditions, but it is a very organized production, on the other hand, it is a period when the slave merchants function very well.

At the same time, the society will evolve between free whites and black slaves. Free African-Americans are at most 17% in Delaware, in the other states they are less than 1%. It is a dichotomous society where slaves do huge jobs such as plantation work, sugar, rice, indigo, domestic work, mining, transportation construction, industry and lumber.

The gap between rich and poor whites[edit | edit source]

Between 1820 and 1850, society in the South did not change much compared to the North, even though the gap between rich and poor widened. The South continued to be rural and dominated by slavery. Almost all African Americans were slaves, and it was the slaves who provided the permanent skilled and unskilled labor force for the benefit of all whites.

Among whites, only 1.5% own more than 5 slaves, 64% do not, but still enjoy them. Among those who do not own slaves, there are some very poor whites who benefit indirectly from slavery because the worst work is always done by slaves. The little white children who often provide the basic food for the large slave planters are often paid in return by the loan of slaves to do the worst or hardest work; there are loaned slaves.

At a deeper level, there continues to be a belief in the ideal of freedom and autonomy of the independent peasant embodied by the Democratic Party. In the South, the freedom of white people depends on the permanence of slavery.

In order to understand the war of secession, it is necessary to understand that even the poorest white people live in a society where they see the continuous humiliation in which the slaves live as a reflection of their own freedom and their privileged situation.[54][55][56]

Deep down, when we live with miserable people, we have the illusion of being free and superior with the privilege of white skin that makes the richest planters equal to the richest, reinforced by fundamentally racist legislation. In the South slaves are not only excluded and most black Americans as well as free African-Americans are excluded from the rights of the poorest. This reinforces the consciousness of being part of an aristocracy, it is the extreme rigidity of the separation between blacks and whites that allows the poorest whites to believe in the privilege of white skin even as the gap between rich and poor among whites widens. It is thanks to this belief that the great planters of the South will be able to mobilize whites behind the Democratic Party to defend slavery in the Civil War.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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