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LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
whole English language.1 This was Webster's. Dictionary, by Noah Webster of Connecticut. It had cost the author and compiler nearly twenty years of labor, and it made his name and work known in every schoolhouse of the United States.
Following Webster came the poets Whittier, Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell, and Poe; Emerson, with his wonderful essays on nature; Hawthorne, with his stories of New England; Audubon, with his magnificent work on the "Birds of America"; Bancroft, with his history of the United States, followed by the historians Prescott, Motley, and Parkman. It was the beginning of American literature.2
About the same time (1833) the New York Sun, the first cheap American newspaper ever published, which sold for one cent, appeared in New York. From that time forward the poorest man could afford to carry home in his pocket at night a daily history of the world's doings.
273. Henry Clay and the Whigs. During Jackson's administration a new political party called Whigs came into existence. They vehemently opposed Jackson's measures and favored the continuance of the United States Bank.
Henry Clay (§§ 243, 269), the leader of the new party, had a strong desire to become President. He hoped that the votes of the Whigs would elect him.
274. Summary. Seven important events marked the administration of Andrew Jackson. They were: (1) the beginning of the system of removals from government offices for political reasons; (2) the commencement of the anti-slavery movement by William
1 The best English dictionary before Webster's was Dr. Samuel Johnson's, first published in London in 1755. It had not really been revised for seventy years, and was very unsatisfactory to Americans, since it did not contain many familiar American words, such as "congress" (in the sense of a national legislature), "savings bank," "prairie," and hundreds of others. Webster thought that America had as good a right to coin new words as England had. He accordingly included these words in his dictionary; in his definitions he was generally far superior to Johnson.
2 For interesting examples of poems connected with American history, see Whittier's "Laus Deo," "Our State," and the "Song of the Kansas Emigrant"; Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride"; Holmes, Grandmother's Story of Bunker Hill"; Lowell's "Present Crisis," "Jonathan to John,"Commemoration Ode, 1865"; Emerson's "Concord Hymn"; and Bryant's "Song of Marion's Men," and Joaquin Miller's "Columbus."
VAN BUREN'S ADMINISTRATION
Lloyd Garrison; (3) the overthrow of the United States Bank; (4) the dispute over the protective tariff, and the "nullification" of acts of Congress by South Carolina; (5) the rise of the Whig party; (6) Indian wars in the West and South; (7) the rise of American literature and of cheap newspapers.
MARTIN VAN BUREN1
275. Van Buren's Administration (Eighth President, One Term, 1837-1841); Business Failures; Financial Panic. In his farewell address, President Jackson had said, "I leave this great people prosperous and happy." But Mr. Van Buren had scarcely entered upon the duties of his office when a large business house in New Orleans failed (1837). It was the beginning of a panic in trade and money matters which swept over the country like the waters of a destroying flood.
In ten days one hundred merchants in New York City had lost everything; and within two months the total business failures in that city reached $100,000,000. Next, the banks began to fail; and the difficulty of getting gold or silver became so great that even the United States government had to pay the army and navy in paper money, which, if it chanced to be good to-day, might be worthless to-morrow. John Quincy Adams (§ 249) declared that, "without a dollar of national debt, we are in the midst of national bankruptcy."
276. Stoppage of Trade; Distress among Workmen; Failures of States; Causes of the Panic. Soon factories and mills stopped running, and nearly all trade came to a standstill. Thousands of workmen were suddenly thrown out of employment, and saw no way of earning bread for themselves and their families.
Many states had borrowed large sums of money in Europe for the purpose of building roads, canals, and railways. In seven
1 Martin Van Buren was born in New York in 1782; died in 1862. He was United States senator from 1821-1828, governor of New York later, and Secretary of State under Jackson, 1829-1831. In 1836 he was elected President (R. M. Johnson of Kentucky, Vice President) by the Democratic party, over General W. H. Harrison, the Whig candidate.
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
years the total debt of this kind had risen from $13,000,000 to nearly $200,000,000. It was exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for a number of these states1 to raise money to meet the interest; and one state positively refused to pay anything whatever, whether interest or principal. This desperate state of things had three chief causes.
1. Jackson's successful attack on the second United States Bank (§ 265) encouraged the establishment of a great number of worthless state banks, especially in the West.
2. People borrowed large sums of paper money from these state banks and bought immense tracts of government land at high prices. Some of the land was in the backwoods of Maine, and some of it consisted of town lots in so-called western "cities." These "cities" often had no existence except on plans shown by speculators, or they were perhaps six feet under water.
3. The national government suddenly called in the gold and silver which it had deposited in certain state banks, nicknamed "pet banks" (§ 265), and refused to sell any more public land except for hard cash. This condition of things made every one anxious to get coin at a time when it was not to be had.
The result was that property of all kinds fell in price, men could neither collect debts nor pay them, the state banks could not get specie to redeem their bills, and the crash came. After a time confidence began to be restored, business sprang up, and a new period of prosperity commenced.
277. The Government establishes an Independent Treasury. This panic in business had at least one good result. Up to this time the national government had never taken entire charge of its own money, but had let one or more banks have the care of it. The disastrous failure of these "pet banks" (§ 276) taught Congress a lesson; and the United States opened (1840) an independent treasury at Washington, with branches, known as
1 Seven states -- Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida, then a territory -- suspended payment of interest. Mississippi repudiated her entire debt on the ground that it had been incurred in violation of the state constitution. Sydney Smith's "Letters on American Debts," Dickens' "American Notes" and "Martin Chuzzlewit" show how sore the English creditors felt about these failures.
RISE OF THE MORMONS
subtreasuries,1 in the chief cities. The experiment was given up the next year, but later (1846) this system was permanently established. In this way the government was protected against loss.
278. Rise of the Mormons; Nauvoo. While Van Buren was President a new religious community, called Mormons, settled in Illinois. Its founder was Joseph Smith, a native of Vermont.2 While living in New York he declared that an angel from heaven gave him a number of golden plates, like sheets of tin, on which a new scripture was written called the "Book of Mormon." 3
Smith went to Ohio, to Missouri, and, finally, to Illinois, where he and his followers, the "Latter Day Saints" or Mormons built the "Holy City" of Nauvoo, or the "Beautiful City," on the banks of the Mississippi. Smith said that God told him that every true Mormon marriage would last forever, and he urged every good Mormon to marry more than one wife. Those, said he, who keep this law will, in the next world, "pass by the angels" in glory.4
1 Subtreasuries: from the Latin word sub, meaning "under"; hence subordinate, or smaller treasuries. The chief treasury is in the Treasury Building at Washington; the subtreasuries are in (1) New York, (2) Philadelphia, (3) Chicago, (4) Boston, (5) St. Louis, (6) Cincinnati, (7) San Francisco, (8) New Orleans, (9) Baltimore.
2 Joseph Smith was born in 1805 in Sharon, Vermont, and was murdered at Carthage, Illinois, in 1844. He said that the Book of Mormon was written in an unknown tongue, but that the angel provided him with a peculiar kind of glasses by which to read and translate it. The Mormons declare, "We believe the Bible to be the Word of God, so far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God."
3 Mormon: a name derived from that of the alleged writer of the Book of Mormon, a Jew, who, as the Mormons believe, lived in this country about a thousand years before Columbus discovered it.
4 This doctrine (see the Mormon "Book of Covenants and Doctrine") was not fully published to the world until 1852. One branch of the Mormons -- the "Josephites" -- deny that Smith ever taught the doctrine, but say it was invented by Brigham Young and others.
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
Shortly after this, several persons who had belonged to the Mormons began publishing a paper in Nauvoo, in which they accused Smith of leading an evil life. Smith broke up the paper. For this he was arrested, and while in jail at Carthage (1844) was shot by a mob who had no faith in him or his religion.
279. Emigration of the Mormons to Utah; what they have accomplished there. Brigham Young of Vermont -- a man as keen-sighted in the things of this world as it was said Smith had been in those of the other -- now became leader of the Mormons; but the people around Nauvoo forced the "Saints" to leave, and cross the Mississippi. Young started for the Far West (1847), and, with about a hundred and fifty followers, reached Salt Lake, in territory then belonging to Mexico, but which is now the state of Utah. Later, he led a much larger number of Mormon emigrants to the same place. It was a journey of 1500 miles through the wilderness. The country bordering on the lake was a desert.
The hunters of that desolate region predicted that the Mormons would starve. But Young set his company to work digging ditches to bring water from the mountains; every street in the village had two of these ditches running through the length of it, one on each side. The abundant supply of water soon made the dead, dry soil green with waving crops of wheat and corn. It was an object lesson in irrigation which has been of inestimable value in many parts of the West (§ 430, No. 3). Industry transformed the desert into a garden. Since then the Mormons have prospered. Many non-Mormons, attracted by the climate, have taken residence there. The village of Salt Lake has grown to be a flourishing city. The Mormons finally gave up their peculiar forms of marriage (§ 278) and Utah entered the Union (1896).
280. Emigration to the United States; Ocean Steamships and American "Clipper Ships"; Growth of the West. Before the Mormons had started for the Far West an immense emigration from Europe to the United States began.
Up to that date (1840) the total number of immigrants that had landed here since the Revolution was probably less than a million. But in the course of the next ten years (1840-1850) the
EMIGRATION TO THE UNITED STATES
terrible potato famine in Ireland and the "hard times" in Germany drove hundreds of thousands to seek our shores. This great stream of immigrants has never ceased, and some years it has averaged more than 20,000 newcomers a week!
Of late years the majority of those who come are Italians, Russians, and Polish Jews. In all, more than 33,000,000 foreigners have settled, in the United States since the government began to keep count (1820). This enormous number includes a host of Swedes and Norwegians, who have become western farmers; while people coming from other parts of Europe have helped to build our railways, develop our coal and iron mines, and work in our cotton and woolen mills.
For many years we kept the door of America wide open. We asked no one where he came from. We asked him nothing about his health, his character, or his intentions. We simply took him by the hand and said, "Come in!" But after a time we determined (1882) to exclude the Chinese and certain classes of white workingmen (1887), because we believed that their cheap labor would bring down the wages of our own laboring men (§ 382). Later (1907), we excluded the Japanese for the same reason.
Now we go further than that. We still give the heartiest of welcomes to all who can help us make our country stronger and better. But to those who come to America to beg, to steal, to make trouble, or who would in any way do us more harm than good, we say, "Keep out!" -- and we mean what we say.1
During the first part of the period we have been describing (1840-1850) a very great change took place in ocean navigation. The Cunard Company of Liverpool established the first regular line of ocean steamers in the world (§ 220), and Americans began to build superb "clipper ships" for the Atlantic and Asiatic trade. These wonderful vessels (which, after a while, were superseded by ships built of iron, and then by steamers built of steel) far surpassed all others in beauty and speed.
1 Besides excluding wholly, or partially, the Chinese, Japanese, and all alien contract labor immigrants (§ 382), our laws shut out lunatics, idiots, criminals, professional beggars, anarchists, those who have dangerous diseases, those who cannot earn their bread, and those who cannot read English or some other language.