BECK index

Summary & Evaluation 1789-1865

by Sanderson Beck

George Washington 1789-97 
John Adams 1797-1801
Thomas Jefferson 1801-09 
James Madison 1809-17 
James Monroe 1817-25 
John Quincy Adams 1825-29 
Andrew Jackson 1829-37 
Martin Van Buren 1837-1841
William Henry Harrison 1841 
John Tyler 1841-45  
James Polk 1845-49  
Zachary Taylor 1849-50  
Millard Fillmore 1850-53  
Franklin Pierce 1853-57  
James Buchanan 1857-61  
Abraham Lincoln 1861-65  
Jefferson Davis & CSA 1861-65 

Links to the chapters on each President follow these summaries and evaluations.

George Washington 1789-97

      In January 1789 the Federalists won a majority in the first elections for the House of Representatives under the new Constitution, and James Madison became majority leader. Congress had thirteen states represented and scheduled the election for President so that the Constitution could proceed in March. Congress had a quorum by April 8, and the anti-Federalist critic James Maclay kept a journal and persuaded them to avoid British ceremonies and honorifics that Vice President John Adams had proposed. The Electoral College had elected George Washington unanimously the first President, and he was inaugurated on April 30. He expressed his belief that virtue leads to happiness and that Heaven rewards what is right.
      Madison in the House of Representatives in June agreed to support a bill of rights. The Senate and House agreed on twelve amendments and sent them to the states for ratification in September. Two were rejected, but the first nine amendments that protected the rights of citizens and the tenth protecting the rights of states were ratified by eleven states by December 1791. Vermont had become the 14th state on 4 March 1791. The bill of rights protects freedom of religion, speech, the press, and assembly with due process of law, a jury trial in all criminal cases, and protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and cruel punishments.
      Federal courts were established, and President Washington appointed Federalists from different parts of the country as Supreme Court justices. General Knox continued as Secretary of War and asked for funds for an army of 5,040 men to fight hostile Indians. Alexander Hamilton was appointed Secretary of Treasury which began as by far the largest department with thousands of employees mostly to collect customs and revenues. Congress passed a tariff bill with a 5% tax on most goods. Hamilton persuaded Congress to assume the entire national debt and all the states’ debts, though Continental money was paid off at a rate of 100 to one, making the total debt $80 million. The first census in 1790 counted 3,699,525 people in the United States with 697,624 African slaves and 59,557 free Africans, but they did not count Indians.
      Hamilton proposed a national bank, and Congress meeting in Philadelphia passed it in February 1790 in a compromise that set the new capital as the District of Columbia named also Washington located by the Potomac River in the state of Maryland. Jefferson and Madison began organizing the Republican party and persuaded Philip Freneau to start a newspaper for their views. Jefferson warned against letting the powerful and rich prey upon the poor. Banking was successful and proliferated, though some speculators ruined themselves. Republicans favored the French Revolution, but conservative Federalists feared anarchy. Congress passed excise taxes on liquor, snuff, and other luxuries. Madison explained why political parties were necessary. Hamilton led the Federalists and persuaded Washington to run for a second term while Jefferson led the Republicans and resigned as Secretary of State at the end of 1793.
      France declared war on England, Holland, and Spain, and the Girondists sent Edmond Genet as their minister to the United States. He arrived at Charleston in April 1793 and outfitted four privateers. Then he held rallies with Republicans as he traveled to Philadelphia. He asked the United States to pay its debt to France soon, but Washington refused and proclaimed American neutrality. Jefferson supported that and tried to restrain Genet, and Hamilton wrote essays as “Pacificus.” Federalist meetings condemned Genet, and the British began seizing American ships. Washington remained above party conflicts. The Supreme Court declined to advise the President as it limited itself to judicial cases. Madison wrote articles arguing that the President’s proclamation of neutrality violated Congress’s power to declare war. Yellow fever took 4,000 lives in Philadelphia as newspapers closed. Madison tried but failed to stop trade with the British, and Congress funded the US Navy. After the US Supreme Court decided that a citizen could sue another state, the US Congress proposed the 11th amendment that banned that.
      In 1791 the federal excise tax on liquor provoked resistance in the west where grain farmers transported their crops in the form of whiskey. They tarred and feathered the first revenue collector and intimidated others. In 1792 around Pittsburgh they formed the Mingo Creek Association that blocked tax collection and enforcement, and in 1793 gangs followed Tom the Tinker. In February 1794 President Washington offered a reward of $200 to catch violators. Hamilton and Attorney General William Bradford got the law made more lenient, but resistors battled militia and burned down a plantation. Brackenridge with the Presidential Commission mediated with moderates. Washington threatened the use of force and went west. Arrests were made, and soldiers occupied a town. Washington pardoned the two convicted, and violent opposition ended.
      John Jay was sent to London as an envoy in 1794, and he negotiated a treaty with the British foreign minister Grenville; but a copy did not reach President Washington until 7 March 1795. The US Senate objected to prohibiting the export of molasses, sugar, coffee, cocoa, or cotton in American ships. Hamilton argued for the treaty while many Republicans were vigorously opposed. The US Supreme Court upheld treaties as the supreme law. Washington urged the Cherokees to grow food, raise animals, and have their women make clothes. In October 1795 Thomas Pinckney negotiated a treaty with Spain that ceded territory which later became part of the states of Alabama and Mississippi. Washington and the Senate approved a treaty in which the United States agreed to pay off the Barbary pirates. In his “Farewell Address” Washington warned against having a large military and permanent alliances, and he advised that honesty is always the best policy. In the 1796 election John Adams narrowly defeated Jefferson to become the second President.

      George Washington was the uncontested choice as the first President under the Constitution, and its federalist influence spawned the Federalists as the first political party of those who believed in a central government that could unite the states. Hamilton as the first Treasury Secretary got the federal government to take on the debts of the states and created a national bank. Those demanding a bill of rights were called Anti-federalists and then Republicans led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Federalists were mostly northern and urban while Republicans tended to be rural and southern with many in between going either way. The Federalists were commercial and favored England while the freedom-loving Republicans championed the French Revolution. Washington remained above the fray by declaring neutrality and maintaining peace. War debts had to be paid, and the President ordered the rebellion against the whiskey tax suppressed. Washington retired after two four-year terms, and a democratic republic showed that executive and legislative powers could be shifted by elections.
      George Washington had been unanimously elected as the first President of the United States because of his skillful command during the War of Independence as well as his participation in government and presiding over the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Perhaps one of the reasons why that convention gave the president so much power was because they knew Washington would be the first president. He did not like factionalism and political parties, and he chose the most capable men from both of the parties that were emerging. The United States Constitution gave the federal government much more power than the Articles of Confederation had, and the more conservative politicians followed Washington, Hamilton, and Adams in the Federalist Party while liberals who supported the French Revolution joined Jefferson, Madison, and the Republicans. Although his views tended to be closer to those of Treasury Secretary Hamilton and Vice President Adams, Washington also valued the advice of Secretary of State Jefferson and Madison who led the Republicans in the House of Representatives. The differences between these two parties also reflected the European conflict between England and France, and Washington’s policy was neutral toward conflicts between those two nations.
      Washington trusted in heavenly guidance and providence, and he worked to unify the Americans with ethical ideals. As a military man he was a strict disciplinarian, and he followed the Constitution; but he also tolerated diverse views and worked for peaceful relations domestically and in foreign affairs. He promoted manufacturing and banking that Hamilton valued as much as the agricultural development that Jefferson and Republicans represented.

      Washington had started the French and Indian War in July 1754, and perhaps the biggest stain on his presidency was the conflict that the United States had in the northwest with Indians and the English who had not given up their forts there. The British held on to the forts in the northwest because Americans had not paid their debts. An Indian war broke out in the Ohio territory in 1789, and the Miami and Shawnee led by Chief Little Turtle inflicted major defeats on the American forces in 1790 and 1791. The biggest defeat of the US Army in a battle against Indians in American history was in the battle at Wabash on 4 November 1791 when the Northwestern Confederacy led by Chief Little Turtle killed or captured 632 soldiers and most of 200 camp followers. General Anthony Wayne trained soldiers for two years, and on 20 August 1794 they defeated more than 2,000 Indians led by Blue Jacket at Fallen Timbers. On 3 August 1795 Wayne made a treaty at Greenville with eleven tribes, and the British finally left their forts in 1796. In the southwest President Washington made treaties and land purchases with the Cherokees, but he had trouble controlling Americans there. Chickamaugas fought but made peace in November 1794. After elections and a constitutional convention Tennessee became the 16th state in June 1796. Washington tried to get along with Indians, and he urged them to develop agriculture and the arts of civilization.
      Speculators bought and sold land in the west. Yet many Americans settled on land they got for free because they did not believe anyone had a right to own land they did not farm. Kentucky’s population multiplied, and it was admitted as the 15th state in May 1792. In 1796 Spain gave up territory north of the 31st parallel and east of the Mississippi River which they opened to American ships. Another challenge was curtailing the rebellion against the excise tax on liquor in western Pennsylvania that President Washington managed to put down with little violence. His farewell address warned against a large military and entangling alliances that can lead to devastating wars. These principles are extremely important, and presidents who have violated them have caused much misery. His policies of honesty and virtue made him admired as the father of his country.
      By declining to run for a third term he set a precedent and showed how a republic can replace strong and popular leaders by peaceful elections. Although Washington may have had his flaws as a slave-holder and a strict disciplinarian during the War of Independence, these are outside of his presidency which in my view can be rated as one of the best if not the best so far. During his eight years the national debt increased by about $11 million.
      Although he was a military man, Washington was a great leader with good values. I rank George Washington #2.

United States & Washington 1789-97

John Adams 1797-1801

      President John Adams was a Federalist and gave a moderate inaugural address. He failed to make any use of Vice President Jefferson who led the Republicans. Adams was provoked by diplomatic problems with France to call a special session of the US Congress in May 1797. He continued Washington’s policy of neutrality while strengthening defense. He sent John Marshall to France. Adams justified increasing naval power to protect commerce. Republicans and Federalists quarreled in Congress and battled verbally in newspapers. The United States refused to loan money to France, and Hamilton advocated expanding the Army to counter the French. Adams believed that starting an unnecessary war is the greatest guilt, and he managed to avoid war. He proclaimed a day of humiliation and prayer on 9 May 1798, but Federalists and Republicans wore cockades and clashed in the streets. Diplomats said the French wanted peace. During the fear of war Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts that authorized expelling foreigners and punishing people for “malicious” writing that criticized the government, the President, or his party. When only Republicans were charged, Jefferson and Madison responded with the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions justifying states that nullify an unconstitutional federal law. Congress passed the first tax on land which was progressive on more valuable houses. Congress abrogated the Treaty with France, and the conflict was called the “Quasi-War.”
      In January 1799 President Adams began negotiating a treaty with France, shocking the Federalists in Congress. In Bucks County, Pennsylvania the house tax was unpopular, and John Fries led those who opposed the law. Adams accused them of treason and got Pennsylvania’s Governor Mifflin to send the militia. Adams also sent 500 Army regulars. Sixty prisoners were tried in May, and eventually the vindictive Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase sentenced Fries to be hanged; but Adams pardoned him and granted amnesty to the tax resistors. The Fries rebellion had been nonviolent. Justice Chase also harshly sentenced the writer James Callender for sedition. Adams ended the trade embargo against Toussaint’s Haiti. The annual federal budget reached $9.3 million in 1799. Adams replaced the Hamiltonian officials in his cabinet and made John Marshall Secretary of State and later at the end of his term Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. Republicans chose Aaron Burr of New York to run for Vice President with Jefferson, and he helped the Republicans win that state; but when the electoral votes for Jefferson and Burr were tied because then electors voted for two people, Burr and the Federalists in Congress refused to yield until many votes were taken. Finally the Senate ratified the peace treaty with France in February 1801, and they confirmed many Federalists as judges including Marshall as Chief Justice before Jefferson was inaugurated.

      President John Adams was a Federalist and wisely avoided war against France, but he lost the support of Hamilton who opposed Jefferson and the Republicans more actively. Party conflicts were verbally and legally fierce. Adams and Federalists reacted with the Alien and Sedition Acts that punished Republicans for their opinions. Jefferson, Madison, and other Republicans argued that unconstitutional laws did not have to be obeyed. Adams managed to avoid a major war and eventually got a treaty with France. He had nonviolent tax resistors arrested but later pardoned them. Settlers moving west to the Northwest Territory led to more Indian wars, and treaties were made that took land. The United States expanded with Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee becoming states, and diplomacy with Spain opened the Mississippi River valley between Georgia and Louisiana to the Americans. Adams persecuted and prosecuted Jeffersonian Republicans, and this led to their defeating him in the 1800 election. During his four years the national debt increased by about $1 million.
      President Adams deserves much credit for avoiding a war, but his violation of human rights in the Alien and Sedition Acts were reprehensible. I rank John Adams #7.

United States & John Adams 1797-1800

Thomas Jefferson 1801-09

      On 4 March 1801 President Thomas Jefferson began the era of Republican political influence as they sought to limit government and maximize freedom. Jefferson encouraged immigration, and the naturalization period was reduced from fourteen to five years. His Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin worked to decrease the national debt, and military spending was cut back nearly 70% the first year. The Federalist Chief Justice John Marshall recognized treaties as the supreme law and in Marbury v. Madison established the Supreme Court’s power to declare laws unconstitutional. The US Army had only 3,350 men, but a military academy was established at West Point in 1802. In the 1802 elections the Republicans won even more seats in Congress. Ohio became the 17th state in 1803 and banned slavery but created “black laws.”
      In his first week President Jefferson consulted his cabinet about the Barbary pirates, and they sent a naval squadron led by Commodore Richard Dale in June. Because the United States stopped paying tribute, Tripoli declared war. In February 1802 the US Congress authorized the protection of commerce and American sailors. On June 25 Morocco declared war on the United States. In early 1803 Congress funded fifteen gunboats and four warships. American marines first landed on a foreign shore in June at Tripoli. In October the Philadelphia was lost, and 307 men were captured. The US Senate raised import duties to fund another squadron, and they attacked Tripoli in August 1804. Consul General Tobias Lear made a treaty with Morocco in October, and in June 1805 at Algiers he negotiated peace and the release of the 307 men. The US Senate ratified the Tripoli treaty in April 1806.
      Napoleon and Jefferson agreed to a revised treaty, and the US Senate ratified it in December 1801. Jefferson in January 1803 asked Congress for funding to buy New Orleans and to explore the Missouri River, and he sent James Monroe to France to negotiate a deal. France’s Foreign Minister Talleyrand offered to sell all of Louisiana, and the United States bought 828,000 square miles for $15 million. Congress approved it in October. The New Orleans Territory was governed by federal agents and then by unpopular William Claiborne and James Wilkinson. In 1806 people in Louisiana adopted the Code Noir segregation. Jefferson sent an expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark that left St. Louis in May 1804 and explored the Missouri, Snake, Columbia and other rivers, reaching the Pacific Ocean in November. They got along with the Indians and brought back new plant and animal species. Lt. Zebulon Pike explored the sources of the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers, and Jefferson sent scientists to explore the Red River.
      The US Supreme Court led by John Marshall made another significant decision in Stuart v. Laird by upholding the Judiciary Act of April 1802 that reorganized the federal court system. Treasury Secretary Gallatin advised reducing the Navy budget, and added duties on imports increased revenues in 1804 and helped pay down the national debt. Spain still claimed West Florida. A Federalist conspiracy to have New England secede failed to gain support. New York’s Governor George Clinton defeated Aaron Burr and was re-elected. Then the Republicans elected Clinton Vice President as President Jefferson easily won re-election. Republicans now outnumbered Federalists in Congress 141 to 35. Rejected Burr quarreled with Alexander Hamilton, killed him in a duel, and fled. Chief Justice Samuel Chase was impeached by the US House of Representatives but was not convicted of any crime by the US Senate. The Presbyterian Gideon Blackburn helped to educate the Cherokees, and they reformed their laws. In 1805 the Seneca’s Chief Red Jacket gave an eloquent speech asserting their right to choose their own religion.
      In his second term Jefferson continued his constructive efforts while maintaining peace. A Kentucky court in Thompson v. Wilmot upheld the rights of a freed slave. Increased revenues helped pay the public debt. Gov. William Henry Harrison made a treaty with tribes in the Indiana Territory, and Chickasaws, Cherokees, and Creeks sold land to Tennessee and Georgia. The British were at war and seized American ships; but they continued to be the main trading partner, and neutral Americans made money on exports. Spaniards complained about West Florida and also fought Americans in Texas. Jefferson agreed to a Non-importation Bill that went into effect in November 1806 as negotiations with the British continued.
      Aaron Burr conspired with the governors Wilkinson in Louisiana and Claiborne in New Orleans trying to form an independent nation, and he obtained support from the British. On September 27 Burr met with Andrew Jackson who later sent him $3,500 to build boats. On November 5 US District Attorney Daveiss for Kentucky began investigating Burr’s planned invasion of Mexico. On the 27th President Jefferson warned citizens against participating in this unlawful expedition. Burr was eventually captured on March 6. Chief Justice Marshall tried Burr and Blennerhassett for treason, but the jury did not find them guilty. On November 27 Jefferson in a proclamation warned citizens against participating in any unlawful “enterprise against the dominions of Spain,” and he ordered military officers and judges to punish violators.
      The United States following its Constitution banned the slave trade starting in 1808, but slaves were still imported illegally. Republicans ended the salt tax, the last domestic tax. Jefferson rejected a treaty with England because it would have let impressment of American sailors continue. On 22 June 1807 the British ship Leopard killed three men on the Chesapeake and removed four crewmen, and Jefferson ordered British ships to leave American waters. England and France were at war, and each declared that any ship trading with their enemy could be confiscated. Jefferson wanted to avoid war, and his Embargo Act became law on December 22. This stopped trade with American ships, but foreign ships could bring goods to American ports. The most seriously affected were the slaves in the West Indies who lacked food, and the business of merchants and others also suffered.
      In January 1808 the Enforcement Act made punishment more severe for violations of the embargo. The US Army was increased to 6,000 and added 24,000 volunteers. In March exports were banned to any foreign country including Canada and Spanish colonies. Jefferson ordered smuggling by Lake Champlain stopped in April, and in August he sent the Army and the Navy. Republican James Madison was elected President easily, and George Clinton was re-elected Vice President. Federalists made gains in New England, New York, and Maryland but nowhere else. Jefferson acknowledged Congress’s right to declare war; but near the end of his term he hoped they would end the embargo because it had drastically reduced trade and caused economic hardship in America. Federalists met in Hartford, and in February 1809 Connecticut refused to enforce the embargo. On March 1 the Non-Intercourse Act ended all embargoes while closing American ports to the British and French. The embargo had cost much in lost exports; but it prevented war and stimulated American self-sufficiency and developed manufacturing. The Jefferson administration had reduced the national debt by about $40 million.

      Jeffersonian democracy began in 1801 by reducing military expenditures and domestic taxes while using import duties to pay down the national debt. President Jefferson refused to pay tribute to the pirates in North Africa. The US Navy defeated them, and a peace treaty was worked out. Jefferson arranged the purchase of the immense Louisiana Territory and sent Lewis and Clark to explore its resources. Jefferson’s Indian policy was more humane and just than that of any other US President in the 19th century. More treaties and land purchases were made with Indian tribes, and diplomacy was used to get territory from Spain. The United States made the slave trade illegal in 1808. Jefferson managed to avoid war with England by imposing embargoes that kept American ships out of danger. This severely reduced foreign trade and angered Federalists in New England and the middle states; but the experiment prevented the evils of war and strengthened American independence and manufacturing. Jefferson considered the embargo an experiment to prevent war, and despite its temporary difficulties it saved many lives, destruction, and the expenses of a war. During his two terms the national debt was reduced by about $26 million.
      In my opinion Thomas Jefferson’s presidency is the best so far, and I rank him #1.

Jeffersonian Democracy 1801-1809

James Madison 1809-17

      James Madison was inaugurated the fourth President of the United States on 4 March 1809, and in his address he reviewed the achievements of the Jefferson era and affirmed republican principles and peace and friendly relations. The embargo was over, and he decommissioned most gunboats and discharged 100,000 militia. He used diplomacy to avoid the war between England and France. Governor Harrison in the Indiana Territory bought three million acres from Indians in September. Chief Tecumseh complained that all tribes should have to agree to these deals, and he worked to unite the Indian nations while negotiating with the British and the Americans. Madison asked for much more military spending for 1810. The US Supreme Court in Fletcher v. Peck recognized property rights of those who took land from the Indians between Georgia and the Mississippi River. Madison proclaimed a fulfilled agreement with Napoleon’s France in November 1810. In the 1810 elections the Republicans increased their majorities in Congress. Americans occupied West Florida, and in January 1811 Madison sent the US Army led by George Mathews to invade East Florida.
      The US Congress did not renew the charter of the national bank in February 1811, benefitting the state banks. Madison vetoed a bill that would have funded churches because it would have violated the first amendment which prohibits government from establishing religion. Seneca’s Chief Red Jacket complained about land sales by some Indians for others. Madison replaced the incompetent Secretary of State Robert Smith with James Monroe in April. On November 7 war broke out between Harrison’s army and the Indians at Tippecanoe, and the US Army burned the Indians’ town. Tecumseh returned from a visit to the Creeks and tried to negotiate peace.
      The British were still seizing American sailors and ships, and Madison asked for more Navy ships and harbor fortifications. In January 1812 he approved a bill increasing the US Army to 35,000 men. Restored trade had multiplied by 32 the exports to Britain. Madison ordered that invaded territory in East Florida be returned to Spain. Louisiana with slaves became the 18th state. On June 1 Madison sent a message to Congress asking for war against the British, and the declaration passed on the 17th. England had repealed the offensive Orders in Council the day before, but it was too late.
      The United States planned to add 25,000 regulars and 50,000 volunteers for one year and authorized 100,000 militia for six months; but the US Navy had less than a dozen warships while the British had 80 in the region and 700 at sea. Tecumseh opposed the older chiefs and wanted to unite the tribes on the British side to regain some of their land. Northern Federalists and the Federal Republican in Baltimore opposed the war, and hundreds of angry men destroyed their building. Governor William Hull in the Michigan Territory was ordered to go to Fort Detroit where his militia was defeated by British soldiers led by General Brock. The US Army invaded Canada, but the New York militia led by General Van Ransselaer suffered many more casualties than the smaller British force at Queenstown Heights on October 13. After that devastating defeat the state militia refused to leave the state. Many in New England opposed the war, and the British tried to win them over by not blockading their coast. President Madison was re-elected, but the Federalist minority gained eight senators and 32 seats in the House. In 1813 nearly 500 American privateers seized more than 400 British ships. The United States borrowed $12.5 million from New York and Philadelphia, and expenditures went from $20 million to $32 million in 1813. In April the US Army and Navy attacked and burned the Canadian capital buildings at York. The United States imposed another Embargo Act against foreign trade in December.
      Madison agreed to peace talks in January 1814, and Congress authorized a $24 million loan. Andrew Jackson’s army continued to kill Creeks, and they capitulated on August 9 and sold 36 million square miles. The embargo prohibited New England from trading with Canada, and the British blockaded the entire coast of the United States. Having defeated Napoleon, the British could send more soldiers. The British from Montreal fought Americans at Plattsburg in September. Secretary of War Armstrong failed to defend Washington which the British attacked, burning the Capitol the President’s House, and other government buildings. Madison and his wife Dolley escaped with documents, and the Americans managed to defend Fort McHenry in Baltimore. The Library of Congress had been burned, and Jefferson sold his library to replace the books. The British had stopped impressing American sailors. Federalists opposed to the war met at Hartford in December and proposed amendments to the Constitution. With little exporting the federal deficit for 1814 was about $41 million. A peace treaty was signed at Ghent on December 24. Not knowing this, General Andrew Jackson led a force that defeated the British at New Orleans on 8 January 1815. The US Senate ratified the treaty on February 16, ending the war. The United States spent $105 million on the war, and 2,260 Americans were killed. Privateers took 1,700 ships, and manufacturing expanded.
      After the war the US Congress agreed to a standing Army of 10,000 men, and families of killed and wounded men got pensions. General Jackson continued martial law after the war. A squadron was sent to Algiers so that American prisoners would be released. The United States made a commercial treaty with Britain that was ratified by the end of 1815. That summer treaties ended the fighting with the Indians. The national debt reached $120 million, and prices had nearly doubled. Indians no longer owned land in Ohio, and settlers increased the population to 400,000. Indiana adopted a constitution that abolished slavery and became the 18th state in December.
      President Madison approved a new national bank in April 1816, and a commission began planning the Erie Canal. People objected to Congressmen raising their own pay substantially, and only a third of them were re-elected. Federalists lost 17 seats, and the lame-duck Congress repealed the Compensation Act. American trade naturally increased. Jackson made a treaty with the Cherokee nation and Chickasaws in September 1816, and the Choctaws also ceded land. Criticism of alcohol began a temperance movement, and peace societies formed in New York and Massachusetts. Bible societies increased, and many religious tracts were published. Abolitionists worked to end slavery, and some proposed sending free blacks back to Africa. Madison also retired after a second term, and Secretary of State James Monroe was easily elected President.

      President Madison carried on the Republican policies of Jefferson but failed to avoid wars with Indians and the British. American invasions of Canada were disastrous militarily and certainly did not win over Canadians or the British. After they burned Canada’s capital at York, British forces retaliated by destroying government buildings in Washington. Chief Tecumseh and many Indians fought with the British to try to regain their land from the Americans. Land taken over from Indians enabled the states of Indiana and Mississippi to join the Union. The war more than doubled the national debt. Federalists opposed “Madison’s War” that marred his presidency and American history. During his eight years the national debt increased by about $66 million.
      I hold Madison primarily responsible for the War of 1812, and I rank James Madison #30.

Madison & the War of 1812

James Monroe 1817-25

      President James Monroe completed 24 consecutive years and 32 of the first 36 years of the United States by four slaveholding presidents from Virginia. He had assisted President Madison as Secretary of State for six years. He followed the Republican nationalism of Jefferson and Madison, but he appointed John Quincy Adams as Secretary of State and John C. Calhoun as Secretary of War. Monroe’s administration reduced the US national debt by a third. The United States made a treaty with Britain for a peaceful northern border. Mississippi was admitted as a slave state and Illinois as a free state. The US had about 9 million people and 300 newspapers. Henry Clay was Speaker of the House 1815-20 and selected committees. Most states only allowed white men with property to vote. The US Congress approved pensions for Revolutionary War veterans. During the “era of good feeling” Monroe toured the South.
      In 1817 General Andrew Jackson had persuaded Cherokees to sell land in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama and to move to the Arkansas Territory. In September 1817 seven tribes sold land in Ohio and the Michigan Territory and moved to reservations. Conflicts occurred on the Spanish Florida-Georgia border, and the US order to remove Seminoles began a war. Secretary of War Calhoun demanded reparations from the Seminoles in December. Monroe appointed General Jackson to govern Florida; but he quarreled with Spanish officers and expelled them, and he resigned in November 1818. The United States made a treaty with Britain in January 1819 and acquired Florida from Spain in February. Cherokees in 1819 again sold land to Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama and in North Carolina.
      The overextended United States Bank restricted loans that depressed the economy. Land values fell sharply. Paper currency in state banks depreciated, and a financial panic swept across the United States in 1819. Debtors fled west, and the US sold land for $1.25 an acre. The US Supreme Court ruled in McCulloch v. Maryland that a state law violating the US Constitution is illegal. In the 1818 and 1819 elections the Democratic Republicans increased their majorities in the US Congress. Governor DeWitt Clinton chartered the Savings Bank of New York to help finance the Erie Canal. The US Congress approved $10,000 to educate Indians. In the Dartmouth College case Daniel Webster persuaded the US Supreme Court to protect corporate charters. The US Congress granted the American Colonization Society $100,000, and in January 1820 the first black emigrants sailed for Liberia.
      In 1820 the US Congress led by slave-holding Speaker Henry Clay of Kentucky worked out a compromise that admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. They agreed to prohibit slavery in future states in the Louisiana Purchase territory north of 36° 30′ latitude. The Land Act would reduce the debt on public lands by more than $6 million in four years. Congress named slave trading “piracy” and invoked the death penalty. Missouri’s pro-slavery constitution banned free Negroes. President Monroe was easily re-elected over John Quincy Adams who was for emancipating slaves. Clay persuaded the US Senate to approve free Negroes in Missouri in a second compromise.
      In Johnson v. McIntosh (1823) the US Supreme Court justified Europeans’ domination of the American tribes. In December 1824 President Monroe advised peaceful solutions to tribal problems, but in January 1825 he urged resettling Indians west of the Mississippi River. Osage and Kansas Indians in 1818 had ceded territory in Missouri to the United States and moved west. Seminoles made a treaty with the United States in September 1823 and were given a reservation in central Florida. Christian missionaries influenced Choctaws in Mississippi, and they developed schools. In 1821 Choctaws traded land in the United States for more land by the Arkansas and Red rivers in the West. In January 1825 they ceded the eastern portion of their ancestral land.
      From 1822 to 1824 the United States recognized several independent Latin American nations and the Central American Federation. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and Clay favored liberty and opposed intervention. Advised by Adams in 1823 President Monroe issued his policy on the independence of Latin American republics with a warning to European powers not to interfere. The Monroe Doctrine also promised not to intervene in European conflicts.
      Clay’s “American system” favored tariffs to promote home industry. War Secretary Calhoun initiated the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The 1824 presidential race was between the three cabinet members Adams, Calhoun, and Treasury Secretary Crawford as well as Clay and General Jackson who got the most votes. With no majority Clay helped Adams win in the House of Representatives, getting Jackson’s inveterate hatred.

      James Monroe was the last of Virginia’s dynasty of Republicans who were President for 32 of the first 36 years under the United States Constitution. Under Republican domination the Federalists were declining, and Monroe was easily re-elected in 1820 despite an economic recession. John Quincy Adams became a Republican and as Secretary of State helped Monroe devise a foreign policy that would support independent governments in Latin America against European colonialism and did so by diplomatic means. The famous Monroe Doctrine also established the policy that the United States would not intervene in European conflicts, a wise policy first implemented by George Washington who warned against “entangling alliances.” That policy lasted until 1917. Since then the United States has become increasingly imperialistic in attempting to act as the world’s policemen but doing so to enhance its national interests. Monroe managed to control some of the violent actions of General Jackson against Indians, but Monroe eventually agreed to move some tribes to the West. During his two terms the national debt was reduced by about $40 million.
      For developing a peaceful foreign policy, for supporting the Missouri compromise that resolved for a while the issue on the extension of slavery, and for allowing internal improvements I rank James Monroe #3.

US Era of Monroe & J. Q. Adams 1817-29

John Quincy Adams 1825-29

      President John Quincy Adams promised that he would respect human rights and continue internal improvements. Andrew Jackson had won the popular vote in the 1824 election and felt cheated out of the presidency by Henry Clay and Adams. Jackson’s supporters gained control of Congress. The 363-mile Erie Canal was completed, helping cities grow, and another national road connected Washington and New Orleans. The 4-year J. Q. Adams administration reduced the national debt by $25 million. An American Temperance Society was founded and grew quickly. Secretary of State Clay made US trade agreements with Mexico and European nations. A murder related to Freemason secrecy led to Anti-Mason newspapers and a new party.
      In 1828 the “Tariff of Abominations” taxed imported goods and materials, and it helped Andrew Jackson get votes. John Calhoun criticized high tariffs, and in December the South Carolina legislature declared a state’s right to nullify a federal act. Although Adams and Jackson did not campaign, their supporters fought with newspapers and scandalous tracts. Jackson accepted slavery and promised Indian land to settlers, and Calhoun became his running mate. Duff Green was official printer for the US Senate and attacked Adams and Clay. In the election 1,555,340 men voted, and the South’s electoral votes helped Jackson win the presidency. Jackson had gotten the highest percentage of the popular vote for any US President in the 19th century.

      John Quincy Adams in a four-way race was chosen as President by the states in the House of Representative even though Andrew Jackson had won the popular vote. Adams had to contend with a Congress that was controlled by Jacksonian Democrats, and Jackson defeated Adams in the 1828 election. Henry Clay’s support on tariffs and trade treaties enabled Adams to reduce the national debt while funding internal improvements. He criticized the militarism of Jackson, and after his presidency Adams opposed slavery in the Congress until his death in 1848. Adams was more respectful of human rights than his father, John Adams, and they were the only one-term presidents until Van Buren lost in 1840. As Secretary of State he had greatly aided President Monroe’s foreign policy which he continued as President. During his four years the national debt was reduced by about $25 million.
      Opposed by Jacksonian Democrats in Congress, Adams had a difficult presidency; but he improved the country and reduced the debt. I rank John Quincy Adams #6.

US Era of Monroe & J. Q. Adams 1817-29

Andrew Jackson 1829-37

      In 1828 Andrew Jackson got the highest percentage of votes of any presidential candidate in the 19th century. He wanted to bring democratic reforms to the common people. Although he promised that he would correct the abuses of patronage, he replaced numerous government officials with his spoils system. He had many unofficial advisors but relied mostly on his Secretary of State Martin Van Buren. He put term limits on some positions. Amos Kendall as an auditor in 1829 discovered corruption in the Treasury Department. Some workers’ advocates were concerned about banks giving too much paper credit, and Jackson considered the United States Bank unconstitutional. His Democratic Party had a majority in both houses of Congress, and he wanted to purchase Texas for national security.
      Vice President Calhoun and Senator Haynes of South Carolina were for states’ rights and nullifying federal laws, but Senator Daniel Webster opposed them and spoke for union and the US Constitution. Ex-president James Madison also criticized nullification. Jacksonians favored making land available to more people, and they funded more roads and canals; but Jackson vetoed turning them over to states. The United States had 330 banks aiding the sale of public land. Senator Benton of Missouri opposed renewing the US Bank. Calhoun exposed Jackson’s conquest of Spanish Florida. After the resignation in April 1831 of Secretary of State Van Buren and War Secretary John H. Eaton, who was accused of marrying a woman who had committed adultery, Jackson replaced most of his cabinet. Calhoun warned against Jacksonian majority rule. The Anti-Masonic Party nominated Wirt for President, and the National Republicans named Henry Clay. Jackson claimed successes in foreign policy. Major newspapers got money from the US Government for printing.
      Senator Clay supported the US Bank, and after an investigation in 1832 the US Congress renewed its charter. President Jackson wanted to kill the Bank and vetoed the bill. He was concerned that foreigners had so much of the money and that westerners with land owed foreigners and Eastern investors. Jackson opposed the selfishness of the rich and powerful. Many in Congress objected, and Jackson appealed to the people. Bank notes were causing speculation and higher prices, and calling in loans led to collapse. Jackson tried to remove deposits from the US Bank but could not get Treasury secretaries to do so until Roger Taney transferred deposits to state banks. Democrat James Polk of Tennessee got the House of Representatives to pass four resolutions on the Bank including an investigation. Sale of public land increased in 1835 and 1836 as an expanding money supply caused an economic surge.
      The 1832 the protectionist tariff was opposed in South Carolina, and its Governor James Hamilton and Vice President Calhoun persuaded a convention to nullify the law in their state. They prepared to meet federal coercion with secession and many volunteers. Jackson called that treason and sent federal troops to Charleston harbor. Other states did not support South Carolina which relented. Clay got compromise tariffs passed reducing the taxes. After two Americans were killed on Sumatra, the President sent US Marines who killed 450 people. Jackson replaced Calhoun by choosing Van Buren to be Vice President, and they were easily elected over the National Republican Clay.
      In Jackson’s first term railways and steamships had increased, and 200 new banks helped investment. In New York trade unions demanded a ten-hour workday. The national debt was reduced to $4,760,082. Settlers moved into the Michigan and Wisconsin territories. Jackson sent troops to end disorder in Maryland. After Jackson closed the US Bank in September 1833, Clay persuaded the US Senate to censure the President in March 1834. In June they also refused to confirm Roger Taney as Treasury Secretary. Clay, Webster, and Calhoun were leaders of the new Whig Party, but Democrats regained a majority in the US Senate in the November 1834 elections. Whigs gained control of New York’s city council. The divided Whigs would have four presidential candidates winning electors in the 1836 election.
      Many Irish immigrants arrived in the 1830s. Riots rose and fell in 1834-36, and some mobs attacked abolitionists. Amos Kendall became Postmaster General, and reducing corruption turned a large debt into a surplus. Capitalists speculated in land in the West while workers in the East went on strike for a ten-hour day. Employers hired women, children, and convicts at lower wages. The Democrats nominated Vice President Martin Van Buren for President. Jackson appointed five Supreme Court justices including two more added by the Democratic Congress, and all five were from slave states. Roger Taney was confirmed as Chief Justice in March 1836. Jackson criticized abolitionists and asked Congress to regulate the Indian Territory. The Anti-Mason Party nominated General William Henry Harrison for President. Postmasters in Charleston, South Carolina burned Abolitionist mail.
      The United States sold more land in 1836 mostly for paper money. Prices were increasing, and the financial panic began in January 1837. In eight years American exports had doubled, and imports quadrupled. The US Senate began rejecting abolitionist petitions without any debate; but John Quincy Adams challenged this, and he warned that war for Texas against Mexico over slavery would lead to a civil war. The US admitted the slave state of Arkansas in 1836 and the free state of Michigan in January 1837. Women in Lowell textile mills went on strike. The Democrat Van Buren won a majority of the votes and easily defeated the divided Whigs to become President. Webster suggested that education and technical progress would increase prosperity. Most organized workers had a 10-hour day by 1836. In March 1837 the US Supreme Court was increased to nine justices, and Jackson recognized the Republic of Texas.
      Gold had been discovered in Cherokee land in July 1829. President Jackson in December advised tribes to emigrate beyond the Mississippi River or submit to United States laws. In 1830 Georgia’s government passed laws to confiscate Cherokee land and to nullify Cherokee laws. The lawyer Jeremiah Evarts supported the Cherokees’ right to stay in Georgia and the rights of the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Seminoles. In hisWilliam PennEssays” he analyzed the treaties made with the United States and applied Christian principles. Eleazar Lord organized protests in New York City, and petitions were sent to the US Congress. The House of Representatives passed the Removal Bill in May 1830, and the Cherokee Phoenix published Evarts‘ protest in July. Evarts died in May 1831. Abolitionists would use his ethical reasoning.
      In 1829 Jackson persuaded 1,200 Creeks to move to the Arkansas River. They suffered from epidemics until vaccines helped some. In March 1832 Creeks traded their land in Alabama for much less west of the Mississippi River. They signed a treaty at Fort Gibson in February 1833, and 10,000 troops removed 19,600 Creeks in the next two years; but many died of disease after arriving. Creeks still in Alabama fought a war against settlers in 1836. The next year 14,609 Creeks were forced to move west as over 3,500 died.
      The May 1830 the Indian Removal Act authorized $500,000 to move about 60,000 Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles. The Cherokees refused to leave Georgia, and William Wirt argued their case to the US Supreme Court which ruled that they were not a sovereign nation. In March 1832 the Worcester v. Georgia decision declared the Georgia law against the Cherokees unconstitutional, but President Jackson refused to enforce the US Supreme Court’s judgment. Cherokees elected wealthy John Ross chief, and he led those refusing to move. In 1832 and 1833 treaties were made with Seminoles, Cherokees, Creeks, and four other tribes. The US Congress established Indian Territory west of the Arkansas Territory.
      About 12,500 Choctaws emigrated from the state of Mississippi in 1831-33; about 2,500 died while some 5,000 Choctaws stayed in Mississippi. Chickasaws in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi also had schools and made treaties with the United States in 1816, 1818, 1830, and 1834. President Jackson urged them to emigrate to preserve their culture.
      Black Hawk crossed the Mississippi River back into Illinois in 1831 and made a treaty in June. He led 1,500 warriors into Illinois again in 1832. Militia and 1,300 US soldiers defeated them in July and August. Black Hawk escaped but surrendered on August 27. President Jackson summoned Black Hawk to Washington and met him in April 1833. After going on a tour Black Hawk spent his last years living with the Sauk in what became the Iowa Territory in 1838.
      Seminoles in May 1832 sold their land in Florida for about $80,000. They were required to move west in 1835, but that year the Second Seminole War began. The United States sent an army of 5,000 men in January 1836, but by the end of the year they had removed only 400 Seminoles.

      President Jackson’s 1830 Indian Removal Act aimed to move about 60,000 Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles west of the Mississippi, and about 6,000 Cherokees would die on the Trail of Tears in 1838-39. Choctaws in Mississippi and Chickasaws north of them made treaties with the US, and most migrated west by the 1830s. Creeks had sold their land in Georgia in 1825 and moved to Alabama. Most left there by 1837 as many died, some in the Alabama war of 1836. Large numbers of people lost their lives during the transition of moving from their ancestral homelands west to poor land in what later became Oklahoma.
      Jackson’s administration tried to improve life for people, and he aimed to transform the government with those who agreed with him. In 1832 a protectionist tariff provoked nullification of it in South Carolina. When the state seceded, Jackson sent the US Army to stop what he called “treason.” A military confrontation was avoided as Clay passed compromise tariffs. Jackson used vetoes to increase the power of the federal government, and he began the “imperial” presidency. He blocked renewal of the US Bank and tried reforms to control the rich and powerful. Jackson’s first term improved transportation and reduced the national debt while stimulating the economy, and Jacksonian Democrats re-elected him over the Republican Clay. The Whig Party emerged, but Democrats regained the Senate in 1834. Jackson worked to make the United States more democratic, and he tried to reduce financial advantages used by the rich. As a slaveholder he tolerated and promoted that vile institution with his Supreme Court nominations, and he opposed abolitionists. Although he believed that the Cherokees needed to be removed from the gold fields of Georgia to avoid their extermination, he could have defended their rights with the military power which he had often used against Indians. During Jackson’s presidency 45,960 Indians were removed west of the Mississippi, and from 1789 to 1838 the US Government relocated an estimated 81,282 Indians. During his two terms the national debt was reduced by about $58 million to the all-time low of under $337,000.
      The misery of this injustice greatly marred his presidency, and I rank Andrew Jackson #32.

Jacksonian Democracy 1829-37

Martin Van Buren 1837-1841

      President Martin Van Buren appeared to inherit a booming economy, but in February 1837 a riot over the price of flour in New York led to a financial panic in March caused by the collapse of the cotton market in New Orleans. Bankruptcies spread, and stocks lost value. Jacksonians blamed banks; but Whigs criticized Jackson as specie reserves (gold and silver) had fallen sharply. On May 10 banks in New York City suspended specie payments which caused property values and prices to plummet. That week almost all banks in the US did the same. The War Department spent $11.5 million on Indian removal in June and July, reviving the national debt. Van Buren’s request for much money to renovate the White House was criticized by the Congress. He approved treasury notes to increase the money supply, and he opposed annexing Texas because of its debts. He agreed to an arbitration commission suggested by Mexico that settled their conflicts over claims. Whigs gained a majority in six states. Some Winnebagos refused to leave Wisconsin, and the Seminole War was costly. In November a mob murdered the abolitionist editor Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois.
      A temporary economic recovery in 1838 would  only  last until another panic emerged in 1839. Some Americans favored Canadian rebellions against the British, but Van Buren avoided war by proclaiming neutrality in November 1837. He sent General Winfield Scott who made peace in January 1838. A pro-slavery mob burned a meetinghouse in Philadelphia, and Abraham Lincoln in Illinois warned against mob violence. Robert Purvis and others organized the Underground Railroad to help escaping slaves. Americans avenging a British attack on an American ship were defeated by British militia in Canada and punished. Whigs made gains in elections and elected William Seward Governor of New York. The New York Customs Collector Swartwout had embezzled over $1 million and fled. James Smithson left his fortune to the United States to increase knowledge. Banks failed again in 1839, and cotton prices fell. The conflict between New Brunswick and Maine was resolved by General Scott in March. Henry Clay’s Whigs emphasized American business, and he criticized abolitionists. Whigs made more gains in 1839 elections. Van Buren was the first US President to campaign for re-election. The new abolitionist Liberty Party nominated James G. Birney for President. The low grain prices of the financial depression reached western states in the fall.
       Native tribes suffered from the policies of Jackson and Van Buren. In 1837 the US spent money and troops who removed 1,600 Seminoles by June. About 400 Seminoles defeated 1,100 soldiers in December, but they made peace in February 1838. That year the United States Army removed 1,200 Seminoles, leaving less than 400 in Florida. In 1837 Chickasaws leased land west of the Choctaws, and on their move in the winter of 1837-38 over 500 died of smallpox. Chickasaws faced conflicts with western tribes and Texans. In September 1837 the Sioux agreed to a lucrative treaty in Washington. Between 1837 and 1842 the United States purchased much land from midwestern tribes. In 1838 Cheyenne and Arapahos fought the Kiowas, Comanches, and some Apaches, but they made peace by the Arkansas River in 1840. In 1838-39 the US Army forced 18,000 Cherokees to make the 800-mile journey on the Trail of Tears, and about 6,000 died on the way. The Western Cherokee chief John Brown dissolved the Council, and three arriving leaders were murdered. The united East-West Cherokees adopted a constitution in September 1839. The Indian removals and related wars increased the US Army by 50% and established new forts. Van Buren ordered the slaves, who had rebelled on La Amistad, returned to their owners, but John Quincy Adams persuaded the US Supreme Court to free them in March 1841. Van Buren also opposed Adams who attempted to repeal the ban on discussing petitions on slavery in Congress.
      In March 1840 Van Buren approved the 10-hour day for federal workers. The 1840 census counted 2,487,355 slaves and estimated that 600,000 immigrants had arrived in the decade. Indian removal and the Seminole Wars had cost $50 million by 1840. Henry Clay in June promoted the Whigs’ economic program in a campaign speech in Virginia. Van Buren signed the Independent Treasury bill on July 4. The radical Orestes Brownson supported it because it helped exploited laborers. Brownson agreed with the views of Jesus, and he urged reforms for the rights of workers.
      Van Buren kept the peace with Mexico by opposing the annexation of Texas. In the 1840 elections the Whigs gained power in twelve states while Democratic banking systems survived in five states. Henry Clay supported slavery to get southern votes; but the Whig convention nominated the military hero William Henry Harrison for President, and Clay and Webster declined to be his running mate. Van Buren was nominated for re-election and was portrayed as a wealthy aristocrat. The Whigs won all but five states and increased their majorities in Congress in an election in which 80% of those eligible voted.

      President Van Buren had to manage a difficult financial panic and the economic depression that followed which naturally made him unpopular. His following Jackson’s policy of removing the native nations west of the Mississippi was unethical and caused much misery. During his four years the national debt increased by about $5 million.
      I rank Martin Van Buren #33.

US Depression, Van Buren & Tyler 1837-44

William Henry Harrison 1841

      On 4 March 1841 President Harrison without an overcoat, hat, or gloves on a cold day made the longest inaugural address in US history. They held the first inaugural parade, and he attended three inaugural balls that night. Harrison made Daniel Webster the Secretary of State. His only major action as President was on March 17 when he summoned the US Congress for a special session on May 31 to work on financial issues. On his daily walk on March 24 Harrison without a coat or hat was caught in a rainstorm and did not immediately get out of his soaked clothes when he returned to White House. His cold turned into pneumonia, and he was bled and given laxatives by doctors.

      Because he died on April 4 after only one month as President, William Henry Harrison did practically nothing to help or harm the United States or the world. On my list those above him are those Presidents I believe did more to benefit the United States and the world while those below him are those who on balance did more harm than good. I rank William Henry Harrison #27.

John Tyler 1841-45

      Vice President John Tyler, a slaveholder from Virginia, became President on April 4. He took the oath of the office, made an inaugural speech, and asked to be called “President Tyler.” By June both houses of Congress had recognized him as President. He had been put on the ticket to win southern votes. Tyler had been a Jeffersonian Democrat, and he was ambivalent on Jackson’s policies. He did not agree with Clay’s American System, and he would be accused of abandoning Whigs to revert to being a Democrat. Whigs did well in Congressional elections held in May 1841. Tyler vetoed many bills, and five cabinet officers resigned in September; but Secretary of State Daniel Webster stayed until May 1843. Tyler selected four Whigs from Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, and  Virginia, and the Democrat Hugh S. Legaré of South Carolina as Attorney General. After Whigs lost state elections in August, Tyler appointed many states-right Democrats. He signed Webster’s Bankruptcy Act. An 1842 treaty enabled the Senecas to stay in New York.
      In 1842 Webster and Henry Clay helped Congress pass a loan bill with a tariff that gave funds to states. Lt. John C. Fremont led an expedition with Kit Carson to explore the Rocky Mountains, and his wife Jessie helped write the popular report that increased those going West on the Oregon Trail. Tyler vetoed tariffs but signed the “Black Tariff” that would reduce American imports. Webster negotiated a treaty with the British Foreign Minister Ashburton that set the US-Canada border at 49°, and Tyler signed it in August 1842. He was proud of ending the Seminole War in 1843 which had cost the United States $35 million and 1,535 military deaths. Most of the 600 Seminoles who stayed in Florida were enslaved. In the fall the Whigs lost elections but retained a majority in the US Senate. Tyler and Webster extended the Monroe Doctrine to protect Hawaii.
      Secretary of State Webster opposed slavery, disagreed with Tyler on Texas, and resigned in May 1843. The Mexican minister warned that US annexation of Texas would cause a war. Tyler claimed the Oregon Territory up to 54° 40' north latitude. Fremont mapped Oregon and California, and he returned by way of Santa Fé. Congress funded a telegraph line from Washington to Baltimore. Tyler made John Calhoun the Secretary of State, and they worked on annexing Texas; but the Congress was opposed because of the slavery issue. The American Republican Party formed to oppose immigrants, and they were called “Know-nothings” for their secrecy. They elected James Harper the Mayor of New York City. Tyler sent the lawyer Caleb Cushing as minister to China, and in July 1844 he signed at Wanghia the treaty that opened up most favored trade status with China. Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur was killed in the accidental explosion on the USS Princeton on 28 February 1844. Tyler appointed John C. Calhoun, and he worked with Tyler to get the annexation of Texas approved by a joint resolution in Congress that Tyler signed on 1 March 1845. President Tyler had tried to form a third party and then endorsed Polk. Democrats held on to control of the US House and took over the US Senate. After his presidency Tyler went back to being a Democrat.

      President Tyler vetoed many bills and appointed Democrats. His cabinet was initially balanced between North and South, but later it was dominated by Democrats. An attempt to impeach him did not get enough votes in the House in January 1843. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky got the Congress to pass a tariff Bill increasing revenues that Tyler signed. Secretary of State Daniel Webster made a treaty that resolved conflicts with Canada. He was against slavery and annexing Texas. When he resigned in May 1843, Tyler made pro-slavery John Calhoun Secretary of State; but the US Congress blocked the annexation of Texas. Tyler signed the act that admitted the slave state of Florida. Clay warned that admitting Texas into the Union would cause a war with Mexico and a divided nation; but he barely lost the 1844 presidential election to the Jacksonian Democrat James Polk. As a southern slaveholder Tyler actually changed parties from Whig to Democrat during his presidency. He was the first incumbent President to fail to get the nomination of his party for re-election. Democrats also gained a majority in the US Senate. Tyler‘s support for the annexation of Texas and for Polk helped him win the presidency and prepared the way for Polk’s aggressive war against Mexico.
      Tyler’s presidency was fairly ineffectual with some progress in foreign policy. Primarily because of his support for slavery, the annexation of Texas, and the Democrat Polk that led to the Mexican War. During his four years the national debt increased by about $11 million. I rank John Tyler #29.

US Depression, Van Buren & Tyler 1837-44

James Polk 1845-49

      James K. Polk admired President Jackson, who was named “Old Hickory,” and Polk was called “Young Hickory.” Polk was a lawyer and owned over forty slaves in Tennessee and on a Mississippi plantation. He was Speaker of the US House of Representatives for about three years and is the only one who has become President. He was Governor of Tennessee 1839-41 but lost his campaign to be re-elected.
      In the 1844 elections abolitionists in the Liberty Party nominated James Birney again. Henry Clay in April warned that annexing Texas would cause a war with Mexico and divide the United States. The Whig Party convention nominated Clay with the Christian Theodore Frelinghuysen for Vice President. The Democratic convention was divided between Van Buren and Lewis Cass of Michigan, but then they nominated for the first time a “dark horse” candidate, the Jacksonian James Polk of Tennessee, who promised to serve only one term. As 79% of those eligible voted, the Democrats gave Polk 49.5% to Clay’s 48.1% in the popular vote. Polk won in 15 states to 11 for  Clay. If one-third of Birney’s 15,812 votes in New York had gone to Clay, he would have won that state and the election.
      The process of the United States annexing the Republic of Texas had started before the inauguration of the Democratic President James K. Polk in March 1845 and was completed with the admission of Texas as a state by the end of the year. Polk emulated President Andrew Jackson but served for only one 4-year term. Polk accepted the idea that Americans had a “manifest destiny” to spread across the continent to the Pacific Ocean, and he was eager to annex California and Oregon territory as well as everything else west of the Mississippi River. Mexico rejected a US offer to buy New Mexico and California. John C. Frémont’s expeditions explored and mapped the western mountains and valleys, opening the way for more immigrants from the US. In his first annual message to Congress in December 1845 Polk claimed Oregon and California for the United States. Polk’s Secretary of State James Buchanan warned Polk not to go to war against Mexico because it could draw the British and the French into opposing the United States.
      Mexico’s new President Paredes began 1846 with an inaugural address swearing he would defend Mexican territory. US President Polk in January ordered General Zachary Taylor to move his forces across the Nueces River and up to the Rio Grande. Whig newspapers criticized it as aggression. Taylor had Fort Texas built by the Rio Grande in April. Mexican General Ampudia asked the Americans to withdraw; but Taylor ordered the Rio Grande mouth blockaded, and the US Navy also guarded Vera Cruz and Mazatlán on the east and west coasts. Paredes sent reinforcements, and the Mexican Army crossed the Rio Grande and attacked an American force on April 25. Polk signed a bill annexing Oregon, and the US and Britain agreed on 49° for the US northern border with Canada. The Americans defeated the Mexicans who retreated south, and Polk told General Taylor to take as much of Mexico as he could.
      President Polk gave his war message on May 11 blaming Mexico for starting the fighting. Congressman Abraham Lincoln of Illinois challenged where the war began. The United States had three times as many people and a much stronger economy. The desertion rate of 8.3% would be the highest for any US war, and Mexico tried to recruit American Catholics. Henry Clay said that if he had been elected President, there would have been no war. The US Army captured Monterrey in September and Saltillo in November. A treaty gave the US transit rights across Panama in December.
      During the Mexican War the United States took over the Mexican territories of California and New Mexico, and Captain Frémont, guided by Kit Carson, headed expeditions that explored the region. Before hearing about the war in August 1846, Frémont led the founding of the Bear Flag Republic of California. Then US Commodore Stockton proclaimed California a US Territory and put Frémont in charge. Col. Stephen W. Kearney commanded the Army of the West, and in August at Santa Fé he claimed for the US the New Mexico Territory. Kearney put Col. Doniphan’s force in command there and went to help complete the conquest of California. Doniphan’s men were later sent to fight in Chihuahua, Mexico. Kearney had Frémont court martialed, but President Polk canceled the sentence.
      Whigs gained a majority in the US House of Representatives in 1847, and some criticized the war; but Democrats added five more seats to their large majority in the US Senate. South Carolina’s Senator John C. Calhoun argued for protecting the institution of slavery. US General Zachary Taylor led his troops farther into Mexico and defeated Santa Anna’s army in a major battle at Buena Vista on February 23. Livermore’s The War with Mexico Reviewed criticized US aggression. General Winfield Scott led an armada that landed at Veracruz in March and killed many civilians and Mexican soldiers as they took that port and marched to Mexico City which surrendered on September 14. Whigs gained 14 more seats in the Congressional elections by November. Polk said the US should take over the territories of New Mexico and Alta California. Samuel Colt began manufacturing revolvers.
      In January 1848 Lincoln spoke in favor of the right of the people to “revolutionize.” President Polk dismissed General Scott and the envoy Nicholas Trist who nonetheless negotiated in February the treaty that gave the United States half of Mexico’s territory for $18,250,000. Both sides ratified the treaty on May 30, and the US Army left the diminished Mexico in August. Most of the American losses were from diseases, and the war’s death rate was the highest in US history. Mexico also suffered serious economic damages. Lt. Ulysses S. Grant called it the most unjust and “wicked war.” In 1848 a joint resolution of Congress censured Polk for “a war unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States.”
      In the 1848 presidential election the Whig candidate Zachary Taylor with 47.3% of the votes defeated the Democrat Lew Cass who got 42.5% and Martin Van Buren of the new Free Soil Party with 10.1%. The US Congress approved the Oregon Territory without slavery. Polk’s last annual message encouraged the California gold rush. He had replaced most of the postmasters. When he left office, Polk toured the South, became sick, and died on 15 June 1849 at the age of 52, making him the youngest US President to die of natural causes.

      President Polk was elected to expand the “manifest destiny” of the United States west to the Pacific Ocean, and in 1846 he sent the US Army to invade Mexico across the Rio Grande and from the port of Veracruz. For Americans this was the most deadly war in its history so far, and Mexico lost half its territory as well as suffering heavier human casualties and economic damage. Ulysses Grant criticized the war and later believed that the United States was punished for this immoral war with its Civil War. Samuel Colt’s revolver made killing easier. Polk served for only one four-year term, but he managed to gain more territory by expanding greatly the militaristic imperialism of the United States, making him in my opinion one of the worst US Presidents. During his four years the national debt increased by about $47 million. I rank James Polk #43.

Polk & the US-Mexican War 1845-49

Zachary Taylor 1849-50

      Zachary Taylor at his inauguration promised to follow the policies of George Washington to extend liberty and peaceful relations. He let his cabinet make his decisions with a majority vote. William Seward of New York became a close advisor. He and anti-slavery Salmon Chase of Ohio had just been elected to the US Senate. Taylor used diplomats to resolve conflicts in Central America. He was prepared to call out the army to prevent an unauthorized invasion of Canada, and he stopped filibustering expeditions to Cuba. In California men drafted and approved a constitution and elected a civilian governor. In Texas the US Army attacked the Navaho. Taylor sent a military governor to the New Mexico Territory to defend it from threatened invasions by Texans. Senator Calhoun planned a convention for slave states at Nashville for June 1850. The US Congress in December 1849 for the first time had a majority in both chambers by the party (Democrats) who opposed the President.
      Southern Senators introduced a Fugitive Slave bill in January 1850, and on the 29th Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky proposed a comprehensive compromise on slavery and territorial issues. The Georgia legislature threatened to secede. An angry debate ensued with the South defending slavery and northern abolitionists opposing its extension in the territories. Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts spoke as an American and supported Clay’s compromise. Stephen Douglas of Illinois was made chairman of the Senate committee on territories, and he argued for letting people in the territories decide about slavery. The last speech of the pro-slavery Calhoun had been read aloud for him, and he died on March 31. On April 17 Senator Henry Foote of Mississippi pointed a pistol at Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton who dared him to shoot.
      The US Treasury paying the Secretary of War George Crawford an alleged $94,176 for working out the Galphin claim caused a scandal. Clay’s committee presented their compromise bill in May. Diplomats brought the US and British together in the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty by neutralizing any canal across the isthmus of Central America. General Narciso López led filibusters to Cuba and burned the Governor’s palace, and the US Navy confiscated his ship and arrested him. The people in New Mexico Territory voted overwhelmingly for an anti-slavery constitution. Delegates from nine slave states met at Nashville in June and agreed to support extending the Missouri Compromise line west to the Pacific Ocean as southerners criticized Taylor’s policies. Taylor refused to support the omnibus compromise because he believed that many people were opposed to its different parts. On July 4 Taylor ate raw vegetables and cherries, and he came down with cholera. Doctors bled him and gave him calomel which contained mercury. Taylor expressed his frustration that he could not get separate bills passed, and he died on July 9.

      Although President Taylor was a slaveholder, his policy to keep slavery out of the territories led to admitting California as a state and New Mexico as a territory without slaves. This policy alienated his southern support and prevented a compromise from being agreed upon during his 16-month presidency. Taylor was a military man, but he applied ethical values as a soldier and as President. Without support in Congress most of his accomplishments were in foreign policy. During his 16 months the national debt increased by only about $391,000. I rank Zachary Taylor #18.

US of Taylor, Clay & Fillmore 1849-52

Millard Fillmore 1850-53

      When Vice President Millard Fillmore became President in July 1850, he made Daniel Webster Secretary of State and Henry Clay’s friend John Crittenden the Attorney General. He also replaced the other cabinet members with Whigs. Clay pleaded for his compromise and warned about the danger of a civil war, and he criticized both southern secessionists and northern abolitionists. Senator Douglas of Illinois persuaded Clay to accept popular sovereignty in territories. A conflict between New Mexico and Texas was resolved, and in August the Senate accepted the admission of California as a free state and the New Mexico Territory without slavery. To reconcile the South they also passed a revised Fugitive Slave Act that alienated abolitionists in the North. The US House of Representatives approved those bills in September, and then both houses agreed to abolish the slave market in the District of Columbia. President Fillmore signed all the bills of the Great Compromise. In the next three months about 3,000 blacks would flee to Canada, and in the 1850s many more captured fugitive slaves would be returned to their owners instead of being freed. The US banned the flogging of sailors. Fillmore gained a library for the White House, and he corresponded with Dorothea Dix about asylums for the insane.
      Georgia Congressmen promoted the Compromise, but most Georgians opposed it at a state convention. Texans generally accepted the Compromise which settled their borders and let them keep El Paso. Senator Henry Foote defeated Jefferson Davis in Mississippi’s election for Governor. The US Army improved fortifications in Charleston, South Carolina. In the 1850 elections for Congress the Whigs and Free-Soil Party lost 27 seats while Democrats gained 17. Senators Benton of Missouri and Frémont of California were defeated.
      In his December message President Fillmore defended the Union and peace. He reduced postage and the public debt and modified tariffs. The American Colonization Society helped 1,121 Negroes emigrate to Liberia in 1848, 1849, and 1850, but most free blacks opposed African colonization. The US Census showed more Irish immigrants than Germans in the previous decade, but this would be reversed in the next decade.
      Abolitionists took the fugitive slave Shadrach Minkins from a federal marshal in Boston and transported him to Canada in February 1851. In Syracuse 15 people were indicted for freeing a fugitive slave, and they were acquitted. Two members of a posse in Pennsylvania were killed while trying to arrest a fugitive slave. Yet most people in the North and South accepted the Great Compromise.
      Fillmore supported railroads and other improvements. The filibuster López led another attack on Cuba, but he was tried and executed. Secretary of State Webster apologized to Spain and worked out a prisoner release. The Fort Laramie treaty promised the Sioux and other nations much land. In 1851 and 1852 treaties restricted Indian tribes to 19 reservations.
A Virginia convention revised their constitution, and voters approved it in October 1851. Fillmore’s message in December urged peace with other nations, and his administration again paid down the debt and made trade treaties with Latin American nations. At the Whig convention in 1852 it took 53 ballots before General Winfield Scott edged out Fillmore for the nomination for President, but the Democrats’ Franklin Pierce, a former General and Senator from New Hampshire, defeated Scott in November.

      President Fillmore approved the separate bills of the Great Compromise worked out by Henry Clay and others in the Congress that included a stronger Fugitive Slave Act but also banned the slave trade in Washington DC. Fillmore reduced the debt, kept the peace, and made improvements that included more telegraph lines and railways. Using diplomacy the United States avoided conflicts with the British by making treaties on the Canadian border and with Central America. In his 32 months the national debt was reduced by about $4 million. I rank Millard Fillmore #17.

US of Taylor, Clay & Fillmore 1849-52

Franklin Pierce 1853-57

      President Franklin Pierce selected only Democrats for his cabinet with his friend Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as Secretary of War, and they increased military spending. Like Pierce the Attorney General Caleb Cushing of Massachusetts was called a “doughface” for favoring southerners. Democrats also controlled both houses of the Congress, and the Washington Union newspaper ran their editorials. Pierce’s administration raised money by selling public land and reduced the national debt by more than half to $31 million. Abolitionists in New England argued for women’s rights. Some people in Cincinnati and New York protested against Catholics. His administration purchased much land from Indian tribes in the Nebraska Territory. Pierce outlawed filibustering in Mexico, and envoy James Gadsden arranged the US purchase of 29,640 square miles from Mexico for $10 million adding to the New Mexico Territory in the southwest.
      In January 1854 Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois  introduced a bill to create the Nebraska Territory with people in future states allowed to decide on slavery, and an amendment was added to repeal the Missouri Compromise. Giddings, Chase, and Sumner appealed to independent Democrats, and several northern states opposed this; but Pierce’s cabinet persuaded him to back the bill. The US Senate passed the Kansas-Nebraska bill in March. The House approved it in May, and Pierce made it law and appointed a governor for the Kansas-Nebraska Territory. Abolitionists supported white settlers who opposed slavery in the Kansas Territory and started the town of Lawrence while slaveholders from Missouri crossed the border into Kansas to vote for slavery. Northern protests stopped Pierce from purchasing Cuba. US Navy Commodore Matthew Perry in March 1854 diplomatically opened up ports in Japan to US ships. Nativists opposing Catholic immigrants became the basis for the “Know Nothing” Party, and abolitionists began the Republican Party in July; both these parties gained many seats in Congress by 1855.
      In 1855 the conflict escalated in Kansas between slave-owners from Missouri and abolitionist Free Soilers from other northern states. Missourians formed secret societies and at first outvoted the Free Soil settlers. Pro-slavery men threatened Governor Reeder with weapons, and he accepted the votes of transient Missourians in elections. The pro-slavery legislature then adopted Missouri laws and over-rode Reeder’s vetoes. President Pierce replaced Reeder with a pro-slavery governor, and the legislature moved to Lecompton in August. In the fall the Free Soil Party met at Topeka and adopted a constitution banning slavery, and voters approved it overwhelmingly but also banned free blacks. Pro-slavery men formed the Law and Order Party in November. A feud led to violence, and both sides began raising armed forces.
      William Walker with 60 armed Americans invaded Nicaragua and made himself dictator. President Pierce condemned this but recognized their government in May 1856. Walker took over the steamboats owned by Vanderbilt who hired mercenaries that helped defeat Walker in 1857. In the US the Know Nothings became the American Party, and nativists rioted in Cincinnati and Louisville. Samuel Colt sold revolvers to Texas Rangers and 9,000 to the British.
      In January 1856 President Pierce supported the pro-slavery government in Kansas and criticized the free-staters, and the US Senate blocked the Free Soil government’s constitution that the House had approved. Both sides sent weapons into Kansas. Judge Lecompte got a grand jury to indict free-state officers, and former Missouri Senator Atchison raised an army of Missourians who arrested people in Lawrence. Then Sheriff Jones deputized a posse and pillaged the town. Abolitionist John Brown and his sons murdered five pro-slavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek in May. Many condemned the killing, but violence continued. Federal troops forced the Topeka legislature to disperse, and small armies battled near Bull Creek in August. Pierce appointed John White Geary the Kansas Governor. He had helped California become free and acted impartially to prevent violence and had federal troops protect Lawrence.
      The American Party of Know Nothings split into northern and southern factions. Governor Chase of Ohio argued that a small number of slaveholders should not dominate. Senator Sumner of Massachusetts exposed the crimes in Kansas and blamed immoral slavery for them, and he urged Congress to overthrow that tyranny. On May 22 Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina severely beat Sumner with a cane in the Senate.
      Democrats nominated the returning diplomat James Buchanan for President, and the new Republican Party chose the explorer John C. Frémont who hoped to abolish slavery. Ex-President Fillmore was the candidate for two smaller parties and won only one state. Senator Douglas campaigned for Buchanan who with 45% of the votes won the Electoral College 174-114 over Frémont. In the US Congress the Democratic Party was divided by North and South members while all the Republicans were northerners. Abraham Lincoln noted that those who did not vote for Buchanan were a majority.
      The Cayuse War in Oregon broke out in 1853 and lasted until 1855. From 1853 to 1857 the US Congress ratified 52 treaties in the Oregon, Washington, and Idaho territories which cost the tribes 157 million acres. The Rogue River Wars 1855-56 involved conflicts between miners and native tribes. In 1853 President Pierce appointed General Stevens to govern the new Washington Territory north of the Columbia River. He made treaties in 1855 with the Cayuse, Nez Perce, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Yakima, and other tribes, but the US Senate did not ratify them until 1859.
      Pierce later opposed the Civil War as unnecessary, and he criticized the violations of human rights by the Lincoln administration.

      The Pierce administration reduced the national debt by selling public land and then bought more land from Mexico for a southern transcontinental railroad. In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act turned the Kansas Territory into a political battleground between pro-slavery men from Missouri and northern Free Soil settlers. President Pierce was a Democrat and favored the pro-slavery government set up in Kansas by Missourians, and the conflict there increased in violence until he made John White Geary governor in 1856. During his four years the national debt was reduced by about $31 million. I rank Franklin Pierce #28.

US of Pierce & Kansas Conflicts 1853-56

James Buchanan 1857-61

      James Buchanan was a successful lawyer and created a fortune. He was elected to Congress in 1828 and became a US Senator in 1834 and was re-elected in 1840. He was Polk’s Secretary of State 1845-49, and was ambassador to Britain 1853-56. In 1856 Democrats elected Buchanan US President with 45% of the vote over the Republican Frémont (33%) and ex-President Fillmore (22%) for the Whigs and the American Party. The Democrats still controlled Congress and the US Supreme Court. New-York Tribune editor Horace Greeley believed a new tariff that President Pierce signed on 3 March 1857 caused an economic depression. Buchanan accepted the policy of popular sovereignty for deciding if there should be slavery in US territories, and in his inaugural address on March 4 he said,

What a happy conception, then, was it for Congress to apply
this simple rule, that the will of the majority shall govern,
to the settlement of the question
of domestic slavery in the Territories.
Congress is neither “to legislate slavery
into any Territory or State nor to exclude it therefrom,
but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form
and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way,
subject only to the Constitution of the United States.”1

US Senator John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky became Vice President. Buchanan loved parties, and his wealth provided the largest inaugural ball ever that was attended by 6,000 people. Buchanan promised he would serve for only one term, and he selected four southerners out of seven in his cabinet which he let govern by majority vote. He hoped that the Kansas-Nebraska Act would settle the slavery issue. Two days after the US Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney swore in President Buchanan, he decided in the Dred Scott case that Scott was not free. Buchanan persuaded two justices including Robert Grier, who attended the same college as Buchanan and Taney, to vote with Taney, making the vote 7-2. The Chief Justice wrote that Negroes had no rights and could be treated as property and that no legislature could ban slavery in states or US territories. This decision has been called the worst that the US Supreme Court has made.
      Speculation and European wars also damaged the economy which had been stimulated by gold from California. New York banks failed in August and caused stocks to fall. The speculation resulted in 4,932 US companies failing. Unemployment spread in the North, and textile workers went on strike, causing free states to lose $142 million. The South could store unsold cotton and tobacco, and the slave states lost only $17.5 million. Tuberculosis and cholera spread in crowded cities. President Buchanan decided to reduce greatly the size of US coins.
      Conflict continued in Kansas as the pro-slavery government at Lecompton dominated. Buchanan sent Mississippi’s ex-Senator Robert J. Walker to govern Kansas. Free-staters refused to cooperate with that government and their corrupt elections. Free-state voters elected a Republican by 4,000 votes as their Congressional Delegate. A Lecompton convention approved a pro-slavery constitution which was opposed by Walker and all but one of 20 newspapers in Kansas. Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois exposed the fraudulent Lecompton regime. Finally in January 1858 Kansas voters rejected the Lecompton constitution 10,336 to 162. Although Buchanan asked Congress to admit Kansas with that constitution, an amendment called for a popular vote on it in Kansas that rejected it 11,812 to 1,926.
      The filibustering William Walker tried to take over Nicaragua again in 1858, but Nicaraguans executed him in September 1860. The Ohio case of those tried for freeing the recaptured slave John Price was upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court and provoked large protests in 1859.
      After Mormons in Utah massacred a wagon train in September 1857, Buchanan replaced Governor Brigham Young and sent troops. Mormons destroyed Fort Bridger, and Young led 15,000 away from the Salt Lake. Buchanan offered pardons, and the conflict was resolved in the spring of 1858.
      In March 1858 US Senator Hammond of South Carolina argued “Cotton Is King,” and Senator Hamlin of Maine replied that northern manufacturing exceeds cotton exports. President Buchanan replaced pro-Douglas postmasters in Illinois.
      Roads to the west coast were improved. After the British fired on eleven American ships and searched for slaves, Buchanan used diplomacy instead of war that two southerners advised.
      Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas agreed to a series of debates against the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln who became widely known but lost the election. In the 1858 elections Republicans made large gains in the North giving them a majority in the US House of Representatives and five more Senate seats. Tennessee, Kentucky, and Texas elected pro-slavery senators. Democrats were divided between North and South factions. Edmund Ruffin of Virginia, Robert B. Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina, and William L. Yancey of Alabama urged secession. Senator William Seward of New York gave a radical anti-slavery speech; but when he was criticized, he modified his position. Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis also threatened secession. Senator Douglas spoke in southern cities and was disparaged. President Buchanan was relieved that the Kansas conflict ended even though it was to be a free state. He sent warships to Paraguay, and an agreement was made.
      In 1859 Democrats blocked a homestead bill, a land-grant college bill, and financing a Pacific railroad, but they passed a tariff. These decisions gave Republicans campaign issues. The Kansas Territory legislature abolished slavery. When Oregon became a state, it gave free states an 18-15 advantage over slave states. Northern abolitionists opposed the Fugitive Slave Law while southerners wanted to extend slavery. Former Senator Rhett warned that the North would free the slaves, and he suggested they establish a Southern Confederacy. New-York Tribune editor Horace Greeley visited the West and interviewed Brigham Young in Utah. The US made a treaty with China. Douglas announced he was running for President, and Lincoln made speeches in several states. Republicans won elections in Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania while Democrats controlled Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida. Sam Houston became Governor of Texas again. Buchanan sent more ships to curtail the slave trade, but he praised the Supreme Court for allowing slaves in US territories. He warned the North and South of the danger of war and advised them to develop good will toward each other. The United States negotiated a treaty with Mexico in December, but the US Senate would reject it in May 1860. More railroads improved trade and the economy.
      John Brown had organized resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. In 1855 he joined his sons in Kansas, and they killed five pro-slavery settlers in May 1856. He raised money in the northeast. In December 1858 he led a raid that freed eleven slaves in Missouri, and he helped them escape to Canada. Brown raised $4,000 in Massachusetts. In October 1859 he led 17 men who occupied the Harper’s Ferry arsenal in an attempt to provoke a slave revolt that did not occur. President Buchanan sent cavalry led by Col. Robert E. Lee, and they arrested Brown and others. During his trial John Brown explained his motives, He was convicted and was hanged on December 2. Henry David Thoreau eulogized Brown in a speech at Concord, and the song “John Brown’s Body” would be sung by Union soldiers.
      In the winter of 1859-60 several southern states increased their military spending. Although the US House of Representatives had 109 Republicans to 101 Democrats, most of the 27 Know-Nothings were from the South. In the US Senate most of the committee chairmen were from the South. Congressmen and visitors in the gallery were armed with knives and guns. President Buchanan vetoed the Homestead Bill, and again Democrats blocked a tariff bill. A House committee investigated the corruption of Democrats in the cabinet. The 1860 census counted 31,443,500 people including 3,953,762 slaves and 482,122 free blacks. By 1860 US railroads extended 30,600 miles. The top 10% owned 60% of US wealth while the bottom half had only 1%. The price of slaves increased 72%. Senator Charles Sumner returned in June to speak on “The Barbarism of Slavery.” The South had seven military academies while the North had only West Point. New breech-loading rifles and explosives for cannon balls were being manufactured.
      By January 1860 Democrats in six northwestern states were committed to Senator Douglas of Illinois for President; but in the convention at Charleston, South Carolina that began on April 23 the 303 delegates were divided. President Buchanan and southerners refused to back Douglas. Before they began voting for candidates, seven southern delegations walked out. Democrats still required two-thirds (202) of all delegates for nomination, and Douglas got a majority of those voting on all 57 ballots but never got near two-thirds. On May 3 they agreed to meet again at Baltimore and dispersed.
      The Constitutional Union Party met at Baltimore on May 9 and nominated the elderly John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts. The Republican convention gathered in Chicago on May 16. Senator Seward of New York led on the first ballot with 173 to Lincoln’s 102; but on the second ballot they were only three votes apart, and with 231 delegates on the third ballot Lincoln soon won the nomination.
      Democrats met at Baltimore on June 18; but most southerners left after five days, and those remaining nominated Douglas with Herschel Johnson of Georgia for VP. Then southern Democrats met at the Maryland Institute and nominated Vice President Breckinridge of Kentucky with running mate Senator Joseph Lane of Oregon.
      Lincoln did not campaign, but his supporters gave 50,000 speeches for him. Douglas campaigned in most states but won only in Missouri. Lincoln got 40% of the votes and 180 electors from 18 states. Breckinridge with 18% won in 11 southern states and got 72 electors, and Bell with 13% won three states with 39 electors; Douglas got 30% but won only in Missouri. Lincoln’s name was not even on the ballot in ten southern states.
      After the election South Carolina began preparing for war. Horace Greeley editorialized in the New-York Tribune that the Cotton States had a right to secede and that it would be wrong to go to war against them. Southern states planned the election of delegates for conventions, and they began withdrawing their assets from the North. President Buchanan opposed violence and war while Lincoln’s spokesman said that disunion is treason. Buchanan declared secession unconstitutional; but he opposed forcing states to remain, and he noted that the Constitutional Convention in 1787 rejected that option. A Congressional committee’s compromising proposals got little support. South Carolina seceded on December 20, and they sent three commissioners to Washington. Buchanan ordered a warship sent to Charleston, South Carolina, and the attacked ship retreated on 9 January 1861.
      That month five more southern states took over federal forts and arsenals. Southern US Senators planned a convention for a confederacy at Montgomery. On January 8 President Buchanan declared that Federal officers would be defended. He recognized that a revolution was occurring, and he asked Congress to act responsibly. Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama seceded by the 11th. Buchanan decided not to recognize secession. Kentucky voted against secession and opposed northern coercion. Georgia seceded. Kansas was admitted as a free state, and the Dakota, Colorado, and Nevada territories were established. Louisiana seceded on January 26. Seward agreed to be Lincoln’s Secretary of State, and he urged a peaceful separation.
      Six southern states adopted a constitution for the Confederate States of America (CSA) on February 8, and they elected Jefferson Davis provisional President and Alexander Stephens Vice President. Virginia’s new Governor Letcher had suggested that a national peace conference meet in Washington in February; but 12 states were not represented, and a Senate committee and the House rejected their compromise. Texas seceded by referendum on February 23. Men in Tennessee and North Carolina voted not to have a secession convention. Davis was inaugurated on the 18th and said they were asking “to be left alone.” There had been no aggression, but he said they would defend their harbors and trade. Orville Browning persuaded Lincoln not to take back places already taken by seceding states so that it would not look like he was starting the war, and Lincoln agreed. Seward also advised caution so that Virginia and Maryland would not secede, and Lincoln stopped using the word “treason.” Warned about threats of an assassination, Lincoln entered Washington secretly before dawn. Many newspapers in the North editorialized that peaceful secession from the United States should be allowed, and some argued that the Continental Congress of the United States attempted to do this from the British Empire with the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.

      Buchanan was a diplomat who believed in avoiding wars by finding peaceful resolutions of conflicts. During the Civil War he wrote Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of Revolution to justify his efforts to avoid war that included these passages:

But even admitting slavery to be a sin,
have the adherents of John Brown never reflected
that the attempt by one people
to pass beyond their own jurisdiction,
and to extirpate by force of arms
whatever they may deem sinful among another people,
would involve the nations of the earth
in perpetual hostilities?
We Christians are thoroughly convinced
that Mahomet was a false prophet; shall we, therefore,
make war upon the Turkish empire to destroy Islamism?
If we would preserve the peace of the world
and avoid much greater evils than we desire to destroy,
we must act upon the wise principles of international law,
and leave each people
to decide domestic questions for themselves.
Their sins are not our sins.
We must entrust their punishment and reformation
to their own authorities,
and to the Supreme Governor of nations.
This spirit of interference with what we may choose
to consider the domestic evils of other nations,
has in former periods covered the earth with blood….
These days of darkness and delusion,
of doing evil that good might come, have, it is to be hoped,
passed away for ever under the pure light of the Gospel.
If all these acts were great wrongs
in the intercourse between independent nations,
if they violated the benign principles of Christianity,
how much greater would the wrong have been
had one portion of the sovereign States
of a confederate union made war against the remainder
to extirpate from them the sin of slavery!2

      Democratic President James Buchanan had been a US Senator from Pennsylvania, Secretary of State, and minister to Britain. He used diplomacy to avoid wars. Many in his party defended slavery. His unethical attempt to back the pro-slavery regime in the Kansas Territory was eventually outvoted by free-state settlers, and he accepted that. Speculation and perhaps a tariff led to an economic depression in 1857 that ended by 1859. Southerners resented their loss of power as the admission of free states outnumbered slave states 18-15. Buchanan and the South blocked the homestead and land-grant college bills that northerners wanted. He kept his promise not to run for a second term. The Republican Lincoln had campaigned on keeping slavery out of US territories, and after his election over a divided Democratic Party seven southern states held conventions and voted to secede from the United States.
      President Buchanan avoided a civil war, and he urged good will. His outgoing administration did not negotiate with envoys sent from seceded states, and he declined to use force against southern states taking control of forts and arsenals in those states. Although many “presidential historians” blame Buchanan for not taking stronger actions against the seceding states, I believe he did the right thing in avoiding what would under Lincoln become an awful civil war. During this four years the national debt increased by about $62 million. I rank James Buchanan #19.

United States & Buchanan 1857-59
United States Dividing 1860-61

Abraham Lincoln 1861-65

      Abraham Lincoln was a self-made man who became a skilled lawyer and politician. He served in the Illinois legislature 1834-42, and as a one-term Congressman he opposed the Mexican War. He admired Henry Clay, and in 1854 Lincoln opposed Senator Douglas and his Kansas-Nebraska Act that caused conflict in Kansas. In 1856 Lincoln supported the Republican Party, and he criticized the Supreme Court’s terrible Dred Scott decision in 1857 and the support for it by Douglas. Lincoln opposed making Kansas a slave state. In June 1858 he made his “house divided” speech and won the Republican nomination for the US Senate seat held by the Democrat Douglas. Both were making speeches, and Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of seven debates in which he explained why slavery is wrong. He advised stopping the extension of slavery into territories and new states. Douglas was re-elected. Lincoln believed that influencing public sentiment was more important, and he gained national recognition. The Chicago Tribune endorsed Abraham Lincoln for President. He made a major speech at Cooper Union in New York on 27 February 1860, and Mathew Brady distributed his photograph. Lincoln was the first presidential candidate to support striking workers.
      Abraham Lincoln was President during a brutal Civil War in which an estimated 755,000 Americans died. This is nearly as many as all the Americans who have died in all the other wars of the United States. Although Lincoln was obviously not the only cause of the Civil War, I believe he was more responsible for beginning and continuing the war than any other individual.
      This section examines briefly how President Lincoln handled this crisis and strives to learn the lessons of history by imagining how he might have prevented the military conflict which had such terrible consequences and still haunts American politics and social relations. By looking at the probable consequences of other policies we may be able to find ways to resolve conflicts more successfully, especially now when total war could mean mass suicide and the possible extinction of the human race.
      The horrible institution of slavery was obviously the issue that provoked the conflict between the southern slave states and the northern states, where slavery had been completely abolished by 1860. Slavery still existed in the border states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri. All states south of those were slave states except half of California which was a free state.
      Lincoln was a politician, and he did not consider himself a radical abolitionist. Lincoln definitely hated slavery, and he believed it was very wrong. He took the political position that slavery was authorized by the United States Constitution in the states where it already existed; but he strongly opposed extending it into the territories of the United States or to other states. He also believed that eventually the United States would have slavery either in no states or in all of them. He made his policy clear in his speeches and reiterated it in his first inaugural address on 4 March 1861. By then seven southern states had already seceded from the United States, and by using democratic processes they had formed the Confederate States of America. It is ironic that the slave states would have had a better chance of preserving their nefarious institution if they had remained in the Union during Lincoln’s presidency. But Lincoln represented the new Republican Party that was formed by northerners, and he was the first President to be strongly opposed to the extension of slavery. In the election of 1860 he was one of four candidates and won a majority in the electoral college even though he got less than forty percent of the popular vote. His name was not even on the ballot in the southern states.
      Many politicians in both the South and the North believed in the sovereignty of the states that had come together after the War of Independence to form a “more perfect Union” under the Constitution of the United States of America in 1787. In 1776 the thirteen colonies had essentially seceded from the British empire in order to establish that sovereignty and to make sure that they were not taxed without representation. The US Constitution does not mention secession, does not state that the Union is to be perpetual, and defines no procedure for states to withdraw or become independent. Some abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison advocated that northern states should secede in order to form a nation that would be free of slave states. During the transition between Lincoln’s election and his inauguration the US President James Buchanan allowed seven southern states to secede because he did not believe that force or war was justified to stop that.
      John Pendleton Kennedy, an ex-congressman from Maryland, advocated a “separate confederacy of the border states” in his pamphlet The Border States, which was published on 15 December 1860. On 2 January 1861 Governor Thomas Hicks of Maryland took the position that a central confederacy of border states could solve Maryland’s problems. On that day he met with three members of a Union meeting and wrote to Governor William Burton of Delaware. Hicks also wrote to the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Missouri, and Ohio about the idea of forming a central confederacy if the Federal Union were disrupted. Like many, Governor Hicks opposed the use of force to keep Maryland or any other state in the Union. Thus while the seven states in the deep South were seceding, the border slave states of Maryland and Delaware were considering seceding and forming a Central Confederacy with New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. Many Democrats and newspapers in these five states advocated this proposal until Fort Sumter was attacked by the Confederate forces in South Carolina on 12 April 1861. Then sentiment in the northern states quickly turned to patriotic support for the Union and its war against the southern “rebels.” Believing that the war made peaceful secession impossible, they abandoned the plan for a central confederacy.
      Why did seven southern states secede when Lincoln had promised to protect slavery in their states and even enforce the controversial Fugitive Slave Law in the other states? The South felt exploited by the North because of the high tariffs that were the largest source of Federal taxation that resulted in southern taxes being used in other parts of the country. As a former Whig, Lincoln was a strong advocate of high protective tariffs. The Morrill Tariff Act had been passed on 2 March 1861, and tariffs were increased early in Lincoln’s presidency to raise revenues to pay for the war. Politicians are naturally ambitious, and the southern politicians also wanted to control their own destiny. Some had imperial ambitions to enlarge their new nation by expanding into territories and by conquering Cuba and portions of Mexico. They did not want their slave states to be restricted by Lincoln’s policies.
      South Carolina had seceded on 20 December 1860, and by 1 February 1861 Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas had also voted and declared secession. One week later these seven states adopted a constitution for the Confederate States of America in Montgomery, Alabama, and they elected Jefferson Davis president. If these were revolutions, they were quite peaceful so far. They went through a democratic process by conventions and in the state legislatures, and apparently all these state governments accepted the new nation with little or no resistance.
      The most difficult bones of contention became the federal forts and installations in the southern states and the collection of federal tariff revenues in southern ports. The Federal forces in Charleston harbor withdrew from other forts and moved into the most defensible Fort Sumter, which was a customs house on an island used to collect duties. South Carolina had sent three commissioners, who arrived in Washington on 26 December 1860 to negotiate a treaty between the new republic and the United States in order to resolve disputes over the forts, the arsenal, and lighthouses, to divide the public property and apportion the public debt, and to settle any other issues necessary to establishing South Carolina as an independent state. During the “lame-duck” interval President Buchanan took the weak position that he had no authority to decide any of these questions, and he declined to make any preparations to fight over them. In fact by his negligence some weapons of the United States were moved to the South by their sympathizers during the last period of his Democratic administration.
      Lincoln took the strong position, which some called tyrannical, that states have no right to secede from the Union. He believed it was his obligation as President to enforce the laws that would keep the states in the Union even against their will as expressed by democratic conventions and state legislatures. His policy is ironic and even hypocritical because this position conflicts with Lincoln’s own doctrine of the right of revolution that he expressed in the US House of Representatives on 12 January 1848 during the Mexican War when he said,

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power,
have the right to rise up
and shake off the existing government,
and form a new one that suits them better.
This is a most valuable,—a most sacred right—
a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.
Nor is this right confined to cases in which
the whole people of an existing government
may choose to exercise it.
Any portion of such people that can,
may revolutionize and make their own
of so much of the territory as they inhabit.
More than this, a majority of any portion of such people
may revolutionize, putting down a minority,
intermingled with, or near about them,
who may oppose their movement.
Such minority was precisely the case
of the Tories of our own revolution.
It is a quality of revolutions not to go
by old lines or old laws,
but to break up both, and make new ones.3

      In his inaugural address President Lincoln warned against a civil war while promising that he would not invade the South. Yet he indicated that the Federal Government would continue to occupy its property in the South and would attempt to collect “duties and imposts.” He promised he would not impose “obnoxious strangers” in Federal offices in hostile regions. The mails would continue unless repelled. He called for “a peaceful solution of the national troubles and the restoration of fraternal sympathies and affections.” In his view this came to mean only by the retention of the states in the Union.
      From the beginning of his presidency Lincoln rejected the option of letting the southern states withdraw peacefully. He took the position that secession is illegal and that the use of force against the Federal Government, even over forts in states of the Confederacy, was rebellion and treason against the United States. He refused to recognize the Confederate States as legal and would not let anyone in his administration negotiate with their representatives. He also rejected an offer of mediation by Napoleon III of France. The historian Allan Nevins suggested that Lincoln had underrated the seriousness of the crisis while overrating Union support in the South without realizing that it had been conditional.
      In March 1861 the Confederacy President Jefferson Davis sent peace commissioners to Washington with an offer to pay for all Federal property in the South and to take on the southern portion of the national debt. President Lincoln refused even to acknowledge them, thus blocking any attempt to resolve the conflicts by peaceful means. He took the hard line that the southern states must return to the Union. Unless they did so, or unless he relinquished the forts and tariff duties, conflict over them became likely. His position has been compared to the British empire when they demanded that their American colonists pay their taxes without giving them any representation in their government.
      President Lincoln was careful to avoid beginning the war with an attack. He managed to instigate an attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina by refusing to negotiate with South Carolina or to withdraw Federal forces from there. Others like Secretary of State Seward advised evacuating that fort. If Republicans had nominated Seward for President, the Civil War probably would have been avoided. During the Mexican War the Congressman Lincoln made a point of demanding that President Polk explain exactly on what “spot” that war began whether it was in Texas or in Mexico. There is no question that Fort Sumter was deep in the Confederate States of America that had formed a sovereign government by elections with a constitution. They believed they had the same right to be independent of the United States as the colonies had to be independent of the British Empire.
      Lincoln informed the government of South Carolina that he was sending in supplies to his besieged men with the warning that he would retaliate against an attack. President Davis and his cabinet authorized the attack by the forces of South Carolina that began the fighting. Lincoln had provoked it by insisting on keeping control over Federal forts in their territory. He took the position that a minority who lost an election should not be allowed to withdraw from the nation, and he jumped to the erroneous conclusion that to do so would destroy democracy. Yet from the other point of view, he was denying democracy to the seceding states. If he had recognized the right of those states to be independent, surely both nations could have co-existed as republics. I do not believe that we should be blind to these democratic rights, as he was, simply because we believe that slavery is wrong or because we have a desire that the Union should be perpetual. Clearly the main motive for the South’s withdrawal from the Union was a bad one, but that does not mean that they did not have sovereign rights as states.
      I believe that both sides were responsible for the war and that either side or both together could have prevented the massive violence of the war. The leaders of both sides apparently believed that the other side would soon give up the conflict. The Confederacy could have used nonviolent methods to refuse to pay taxes as the American colonists had done from 1765 to 1775, a period that John Adams considered was the real revolution. Many if not most of those in the northern and border states believed that the two republics could be separated peacefully. The southerners believed they had the same right to be independent as the original thirteen colonies had to become a confederation of states.
      On April 22 Rev. Richard Fuller had led a delegation of 35 delegates of the Young Men’s Christian Association from Baltimore, and he asked President Lincoln to avoid war by recognizing the independence of the southern states; but Lincoln obstinately referred to Washington, Jackson, and manhood in refusing to consider a peaceful approach. He complained that people in Baltimore had harassed Federal troops on their way to Washington, and five days later he suspended the writ of habeas corpus so that such people could be arrested without being charged with a crime. Conflicts in Missouri led to the imposition of martial law there. In May a list of more than a hundred newspapers that opposed the war was published, and Lincoln ordered Postmaster General Blair to deny those papers mail delivery, the usual means of circulating newspapers at that time. President Lincoln widened the suspension of habeas corpus, and during the summer Maryland legislators who favored secession were imprisoned so that they could not even meet to decide the issue. Lincoln was a pragmatic commander-in-chief, and he was afraid that if Maryland seceded, his capital at Washington would be surrounded by Virginia and Maryland. General Nathaniel Banks reported to Lincoln that every Maryland legislator who advocated peace had been arrested, and in their November elections judges were instructed to disallow votes for candidates who opposed the war. Peace Party ballots were a different color so that they could be thrown out, and those carrying them were arrested. In the first ten months of the war Lincoln’s Federal Government arrested 854 civilians.
      On April 15 Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for three months to add to the small Union army of 17,000, and he proclaimed a naval blockade of southern ports in May, excluding even drugs and medicine. By June 8 the states of Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee had also seceded and joined the Confederate States. On June 26 the New York Tribune published “The Nation’s War Cry,” urging capture of the new Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. The next day the Republican Chicago Tribune repeated the same cry. Nearly four years later on 23 February 1865 when Chicago Tribune editor Joseph Medill and others pleaded with Lincoln not to draft more men, the President reminded them that Chicago was one of the cities that had called for war, and he told them to go home and raise the men. The Union Army began robbing and plundering in the disastrous battle at Bull Run (Manassas) on 21 July 1861, and the next day Lincoln called for the enlistment of 500,000 men for three years. This military victory gave the South hope that they could win the war despite their disadvantages because they believed the northerners would eventually give up the task as not worth the costs.
      Lincoln expanded the power of the Presidency and the Federal Government to prosecute a civil war against a dissenting region using the tyrannical method of all-out war including a complete blockade of all southern ports, arresting critics and suspending the right of habeas corpus to keep them in jail without giving them trials. He had extraordinary determination and eventually found generals ruthless enough to win battles while suffering enormous losses. The overwhelming advantages of the North in industrial power were used to slaughter and capture those he considered “rebels” who were committing treason.
      After suffering several defeats by the Confederates led by General Stonewall Jackson, General John Pope began waging war on civilians in Virginia. His General Order No. 11 was issued on 23 July 1862 and required men behind Union lines to take a loyalty oath to the United States; those suspected of breaking their oath could be shot and have their property confiscated. Hundreds of southern churches were burned, and ministers who refused to pray publicly for Lincoln were imprisoned. On July 25 General Pope issued General Order No. 13 which ordered soldiers not to guard private homes or property of those who were hostile to the Federal Government. This and the previous General Order No. 5 allowed Union soldiers to rob and mistreat civilians.
      Two days after he announced the Emancipation Proclamation on 22 September 1862, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus throughout the nation. Careful research by scholars such as Mark E. Neely Jr. indicates that during the Civil War the Federal Government imprisoned more than 14,000 civilians for opposing the Government or its war in some way. Lincoln authorized military officers to shut down newspapers if they were criticizing recruiting or the war effort. The Provost Marshal General’s Bureau was organized in 1863, and by the end of the war two years later they had arrested and returned to the Union Army 76,526 deserters. During the military draft 161,286 citizens failed to report to the Union Army, but how many of them were arrested is unknown.
      Lincoln also had imperial ambitions for the United States, and he used Government subsidies to finance the transcontinental railroad to the west coast. In 1862 a crop failure caused starvation among the Santee Sioux because the Federal Government refused to pay them the $1,410,000 owed them from the sale of 24 million acres in 1851. When the Sioux revolted, General John Pope tried to exterminate them. Hundreds of Indians were held as prisoners of war and were given military trials that sentenced 303 to death. President Lincoln commuted most of these sentences, but 38 were put to death in the largest mass execution in the history of the United States. After Lincoln’s death under mostly Republican administrations the experienced military would be used to attack any Indians who were in the way of the railroads and the western expansion of the United States. Lincoln was ambitious on behalf of the United States and did not want to see the empire divided. He developed the power of the imperial presidency as commander-in-chief by arrogating to himself extra-constitutional “war powers.”
      In 1863 at Geneva efforts were made to codify an international convention on the conduct of war, and on April 24 President Lincoln issued General Order No. 100 on proper conduct during war. Written by his advisor Franz Lieber, this was issued as “Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field.” This code allowed military commanders to make exceptions when they believed it was necessary. Specifically the code allowed them to destroy property and withhold the means of subsistence from the enemy and to appropriate whatever the country afforded for the subsistence of the army. This code also endorsed military retaliation, and Union commanders were allowed to take hostages to deter guerrilla action.
      While General George McClellan and other generals in the East tended to be more conciliatory, in the West the generals Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and others soon began foraging and burning towns and crops. Sherman declared all people in the South enemies and traitors so that he could justify waging war against civilians. As they closed in on Vicksburg in 1863, the Union Army stripped the surrounding land in Mississippi of crops and burned the houses. Sherman ordered Jackson, Mississippi bombarded every five minutes day and night, and then his soldiers sacked and destroyed the city. Sherman told Grant that they had devastated the land for thirty miles around. Sherman’s forces also destroyed the town of Meridian.
      In the late summer of 1864 Sherman’s army bombarded Atlanta and then destroyed 90% of the city. As they marched to Savannah robbing and plundering, Sherman ordered randomly chosen civilians killed in retaliation for attacks by Confederate soldiers. Because South Carolina had begun the secession movement, Sherman ordered his men to pillage, plunder, and sack cities there even more ruthlessly. His chaplain James Stillwell reported that a majority of the cities, villages, and county houses were burned to the ground. In late 1864 the Union cavalry led by Philip Sheridan ravaged the Shenandoah Valley by pillaging, plundering, and burning. Lincoln was overjoyed by the “victories” of Sherman and Sheridan because they assured his re-election that November. The US Navy had increased during the war from 42 ships to 671. In 1864 the Union Army had drafted 168,649 men, but Lincoln in December called for 300,000 more volunteers. A two-thirds vote was needed in the US House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, and Lincoln got it by giving lame-duck Democrats lucrative jobs. During his presidency Lincoln replaced 1,457 of the 1,639 officials that he could appoint.
      On 3 April 1865 the Confederate President Davis fled from Richmond as the Union Army took over the city. On April 9 CSA General Robert E. Lee surrendered to US General Ulysses S. Grant, and he told troops to end the war; the last two forts in Mobile capitulated on April 11. John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln at a theatre, and he died on April 14.

      During this Civil War at least 360,000 Union soldiers and 260,000 Confederates died, though only about 204,000 were killed in battles. Recent estimates suggest that as many as 755,000 people may have died because of the Civil War. The Union had 275,175 wounded and the Confederates at least 100,000. About 390,000 died by disease. The Union had about 2,100,000 men in military service including some 180,000 African Americans, and the Confederates had about 880,000. The Union captured 462,634 Confederates while 211,411 Union soldiers were held as prisoners. According to records of the 194,743 Union prisoners in southern prisons 30,218 died while 25,976 of the 214,865 Confederates in northern prisons died during the war. In his Memoirs General Grant wrote that this war “was a fearful lesson and should teach us the necessity of avoiding wars in the future.”4 In 1860 the United States national debt was $65,00,000, and by the end of the war it had reached $2,700,000,000.
      W. E. B. Du Bois wrote that black workers won the war by transferring their labor from Confederate planters to the “Northern invader.” He observed,

War is murder, force, anarchy and debt.
Its end is evil, despite all incidental good.
Neither North nor South had before 1861
the slightest intention of going to war.
The thought was in many respects ridiculous.
They were not prepared for war.
The national army was small,
poorly equipped and without experience.
There was no file from which
someone might draw plans of subjugation.5

      The question I am raising is whether war was the best way to resolve these conflicts. To answer this question as best we can, let us explore various scenarios of what might have happened if Lincoln had allowed the South to secede. In the 19th century most nations in the world which had slavery had abolished it by peaceful means. The British freed all the slaves in their empire in six years, completing the process in 1840. Most Latin American nations emancipated all their slaves between 1813 and 1854, and the gradual liberation of slaves in Brazil was completed in 1888. The only other violent emancipation of slaves was the slave uprising in Haiti in 1794, and the French Government forced Haiti to pay them for the costs of that war, leaving independent Haiti impoverished. France, Britain, and the United States imposed a devastating embargo on Haiti until they agreed to pay compensation to the former slave-owners.
      Clearly the historical trend in this era was toward emancipation and the abolition of slavery. The proportion of slaves in the population had been declining for three decades in Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and most of Virginia. The American Civil War, which Lincoln called the War of the Rebellion and that southerners named the War Between the States, cost $6.6 billion and was borne about equally by both sides. The greatest cost of the Civil War was the death of 755,000 people—about one-third in combat and two-thirds by disease. In the South one out of four males between the ages of twenty and forty perished in the war. Hundreds of thousands were also wounded, and tens of thousands were crippled. Nearly forty percent of the American economy was destroyed directly by the war. From the monetary costs alone all the slaves could have been freed by compensating their former owners while providing each of the former slaves with forty acres. The money compensated then could have been used to pay workers’ salaries.
      If Lincoln had agreed to negotiate the settlement of the Federal installations in the seceded states and their portion of the national debt, and if he gave up the exploitative taxes, then most of the costs of the war probably could have been saved. The remaining northern states might have lost some of the wealth they were exploiting from the South by the tariffs, but that would have been a small loss compared to the war costs. The greatest advantage of a peaceful settlement would have been saving the 755,000 lives that were lost and the other injuries. One can hardly overestimate the psychological trauma caused by young men being forced to kill their fellow countrymen in miserable conditions that caused so many to die of disease. Many civilians were also killed, wounded, or imprisoned.
      The four slave states which remained in the Union, would have continued as before. Gradual emancipation with compensation to the former owners might have been negotiated so that the Union would eventually have become free of slavery. The question is how long the Confederate States would have maintained their “peculiar institution” of slavery against the trend of modern history. Instead of being forced to emancipate the slaves without compensation, they could have worked out some sort of gradual emancipation eventually. The South was suffering from the tyranny of a relatively small  number of slave-owners who exploited the unpaid labor of slaves to dominate the economy and politics. If southerners learned how to make the transition from slavery themselves, they would not have had the immense suffering caused by the Civil War. They would not have built up so much resentment against the other states that still persists among those still believing in the “lost cause.”
      Without a war surely almost all those staying in the Union would have been much better off. I believe the slave states would eventually have reformed themselves because the non-slaveholding whites and the blacks would have been much better off without a few slaveholders exploiting the rest of the society. Also the whites in the seceded states would have been more prosperous and safe compared to the utter defeat they suffered in the war and during the post-war years of military occupation referred to as “Reconstruction.”
      One can argue that the slaves in the seceded states would have been worse off. Yet they also suffered in the devastating war. The southern slaves liberated by the North were given a period of twelve years to reconstruct their lives during which they were favored with exceptional political opportunities because of the Union occupation that disenfranchised the rebels. Yet the resentment of the white southerners for having this forced on them led to a strong reaction after Reconstruction was ended in 1877. The whites then developed the segregation system of Jim Crow laws that perpetuated hatred between the races for the next century. For several generations this discrimination lowered the quality of life for the slaves’ descendants.
      If there had been no war, the northern abolitionists could have found ways to help the slaves in the South, and most likely the Fugitive Slave Law would not have been enforced. If all the slave states seceded, then slaves could have run away to the northern states. One could argue that this might also have led to a war. Yet the North could simply defend its borders. It seems to me that in this situation it would have been much less likely that either side would have significantly invaded the other’s territory. The northerners might have used economic pressures to urge the southerners to emancipate their slaves. Eventually the southern states would have learned what all other countries had found out—that free labor is more productive and more socially desirable than slavery and infinitely more moral.
      After the Confederate States emancipated their slaves, they would likely have wanted to be readmitted into the United States. Thus the nation could have been reunited with less resentment than after a war because the northerners would have respected the right of the southerners to exercise their own sovereignty and learn their own lessons their own way without having them forced upon them. Americans claim to value freedom greatly, but the military tradition of fighting and winning wars is the opposite of the respect for the freedom of others. The history of the United States since then would probably have been more peaceful. The United States might not have gone to war against the Spanish empire in 1898. If the United States had not gone abroad to join the useless carnage of the First World War in Europe, some historians have argued that the peace may not have caused the resentments in Germany that led to the Second World War. The violence of the Civil War also led to more violence in the wild West using better rifles and Colt revolvers.
      Understanding this tragic flaw in Lincoln’s character that led to the terrible Civil War is especially significant because his virtues of honesty, intellect, integrity, compassion, mercy, humor, determination, diligence, and sense of justice make him one of America’s greatest heroes. His talents would have been much better put to use in using diplomatic and political skills rather than in prosecuting a brutal war. Because of Lincoln’s imperialistic approach to this crisis, the Federal Government of the United States was greatly strengthened and centralized. Without the war the people in the states would have retained more local control. He claimed war powers and developed the role of the President as commander-in-chief in one of the largest wars in western civilization up to that time. This war was a transition to modern warfare in which the industries of nations are pitted against each other, and millions of people are put in harm’s way. Lincoln often said he would not make war on the slave states and that he wanted peace, but his actual policies and strategies betrayed those promises and ideals. Almost all historians and presidential scholars have rated Abraham Lincoln the best or one of the best US Presidents. Yet it seems to me that if we evaluate the consequences of his war policy on the people of the United States, no other US President has done as much damage to the nation as Lincoln did.
      These lessons are important because the United States became bogged down in war in the Pacific, Africa and Europe during World II and then in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The US has extended its military power and threats throughout the world. When are we going to learn that it does not spread freedom to force others to do what we want? Force is the opposite of freedom. If we used a fraction of what we waste on military spending to help people in other nations, they would be our friends as well as being much more prosperous. Humanity needs to learn how to solve its conflicts in peaceful ways because otherwise we are likely to destroy ourselves and ravage the environment of this planet with the possible consequence of leaving a desolate place to those who may survive.
      As Americans maybe we need to ask ourselves why we allowed the terrible injustice of slavery to lead to such a destructive war when every other nation except Haiti managed to resolve this issue without horrendous violence. Why is the United States continuing to arrogate to itself the role of policing the world with our military might? Huge military spending since World War II and especially since 1981 has led to a national debt that in February 2022 surpassed 30 trillion dollars. The United States has been spending almost as much on the military as the rest of the world combined. The US Government which is corrupted by money in politics has been wasting our resources and living beyond our means. Let us pray and work hard in peaceful ways so that the day of reckoning for our country can be faced and resolved without massive violence and suffering. Let us work together for a world that is peaceful, compassionate, just, free, prosperous, and ecologically sustainable. During his four years and 41 days the national debt increased by about $2,590 million. I rank Abraham Lincoln #44.

Lincoln’s War for Union in 1861
Lincoln’s War for Union in 1862
Lincoln’s War for Emancipation in 1863
Lincoln’s War for Emancipation in 1864
United States Victory in 1865
Preventing United States Civil War

Jefferson Davis & CSA 1861-65

      On 5 February 1861 six Confederate States, which had seceded from the United States, elected Jefferson Davis, the former US Senator from Mississippi, the acting President of the Confederate States of America, and on November 6 the eleven Confederate States elected him President for a six-year term. He defended the immoral institution of slavery and state rights over the federal interference. He hoped that the United States would leave the Confederacy alone and sent envoys to Washington to negotiate the separate independence of the Confederate States of America. The Lincoln administration refused even to talk to them and considered them traitors and rebels. The Confederacy took control of most of the federal installations in their seceded states except for Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens. Neither Lincoln nor Davis wanted a war; but Lincoln was willing to risk one to preserve the Union, and Davis took an even greater risk in fighting against a larger nation for independence and their slave system. The population, power, and industry of the United States doomed the Confederacy to losing the war. Both sides engaged in an extremely violent war that lasted four years that killed about 755,000 people until the South was exhausted and submitted.
      The policies of Davis were similar to those of Lincoln in drafting men as soldiers and carrying out an all-out war by armies and navies.

      In my view both Lincoln and Davis were wrong for starting and waging a terrible war while Davis was twice as wrong for trying to defend oppressive slavery. He was President of less than a third of the states as a separate nation for four years, and then all those states were reunited with the United States. Although he was never President of the United States, I have included him in this evaluation because he was President of the Confederate States of America that included eleven states for about four years. I rank Jefferson Davis #45.


1. Presidents: Every Question Answered by Carter Smith, p. 329.
2. Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of Revolution by James Buchanan, p. 64-65.
3. Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 1, p. 438-439.
4. Memoirs and Selected Letters by Ulysses S. Grant, p. 774.
5. Black Reconstruction in America by W. E. B. Du Bois, p. 55.

Copyright © 2022 by Sanderson Beck

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