Category Archives: A History of North America

The reputation of Benedict Arnold

/ popscreen.com

/ popscreen.com

Even in 2015, some two hundred and fourteen years after his death, the name Benedict Arnold can inspìre in thinking Americans either an adverse or admiring reaction. “Traitor!’ “Outcast!” some will cry, curling the lip as if he were something disgusting: whereas some will say, “Brave man!” or “Good fellow!”. It seems to be automatic reaction, not necessarily based on fact.

Benedict Arnold was born in 1741; when the American Revolution(q.v.) broke out he chose to fight for the colonists against the British, and at the siege of Quebec distinguished himself for his courage and tenacity in battle. His reward was promotion to Brigadier-General – an essentially American army rank which means a field officer in command of a brigade. Continue reading

Further thoughts on American colonial independence

1774: hundreds of anti.Revolution familes leave the Colonies for Canada / travelanguist.com

1774: hundreds of anti-Revolution families leave the Colonies for Canada / travelanguist.com

The war that established the independence from Britain of the thirteen American colonies took place between 1775 and 1783, and is improperly called ‘The American War of Independence’ when it should more correctly be referred to as ‘The American Revolution’ – for that is what it was, a revolution.

In the early 1760s relations between the government in London and the Colonies became even more strained than they had ever been. The London government was intent on taking measures to control everything in the colonies, and the colonists objected, though only verbally at first. They found it difficult to understand why they should be taxed without having proper representation, indeed any representation in London. Independence-seekers gathered in most of the coastal port towns, such as New York, Richmond, Virginia and Boston, Massachusetts. Continue reading

The Dominions, and the Statute of Westminster

A part of New Zealand / airnewzealand.ar.com

A part of New Zealand / airnewzealand.ar.com

Readers become confused by the essential differences between dominions and colonies and protectorates. The British Empire, when it existed, embraced all three. ‘Dominions’ was the name used for countries in the Empire that had a certain degree of self-government, but owed allegiance to the British Crown. The first country to be called a Dominion was Canada (1867), followed by Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and, at last, the Irish Free State in 1921. Their new independence was officially recognised at the Imperial Conference in 1926. Actual power to pass legislation independently of the Government was confirmed by the Statute of Westminster.

In 1931 this Statute gave freedom to the Dominions. Following the Great War these Dominions had been accepted as national states in their own right, though they were still part of the Empire. They joined the ill-fated League of Nations (q.v.) but it was seen (by them) as if their ‘freedom’ was still limited. Continue reading

The American Federation of Labor

Samuel Gompers / britannica.com

Samuel Gompers / britannica.com

‘Socialism’ or ‘Socialist’ are unclean words in the United States. This is why the other part of their two-party political system is called ‘The Democratic Party’ as opposed to ‘The American Labour (labor) Party’ or the ‘US Social Democratic Party’. Socialism has always been regarded by loyal Americans as ‘un-American’. And yet the divisive word ‘labor’ crept into mainstream language when the craft unions got together in 1881 to found the AFL, and then re-organized it in 1886. Continue reading

National Guards (France and USA)

Artist's impression of members of the French National Guard / eclatdebois.org

Artist’s impression of members of the French National Guard / eclatdebois.org

The National Guard in France was founded in July, 1789 to replace the royal soldiers who had been forbidden entry to Paris. Other cities and towns followed suit rapidly, and soon most municipalities had their own troops, under the mandate of the local authority. At first, members tended to be of the richer class, freer and able to be more active than the agricultural or urban working classes, but revolutionary leaders soon realised that the Guard was playing a leading part on the side of the royalists (not the idea at all), so it was suppressed in 1795, only to be reorganised again in 1815, when it became an integral part of the bourgeois monarchy of Louis Philippe (q.v.).

However, the Guard refused to defend the regime in 1848, a signal for the February Revolution to break out. It was broken up again during the Second Empire, but revived and transformed in 1870 in a useless attempt to defeat the Prussians, who were invading France at the time. Then in March, 1871 the Guard rebelled in support of the Paris Commune; many of its members were killed, but it was finally and permanently suppressed after the defeat of the Commune.

The US National Guard on duty in Texas, USA / rt.com

The US National Guard on duty in Texas, USA / rt.com

In the United States of America the National Guard holds great importance. It signifies the well-armed military reserve of each one of the States, and members are subject to federal or state call-up in an emergency. The Guard was created by Congress in 1915 to serve as an auxiliary to the regular army; its members were volunteers, and there has never been a lack of them, as it is a uniformed and salaried state militia. During any war the Guard is subject to federal (or the President’s) control and can be sent to any war zone, but for wholly political reasons it is rarely sent abroad. In the decades before conscription was suspended, many young people volunteered to enter the Guard’s ranks in order not to be conscripted for the Vietnam War. Continue reading

Commodore Perry & the ‘Unequal Treaties’

The Commodore meets the Shogunate / mickmc.tripod.com

The Commodore meets the Shogunate / mickmc.tripod.com

Matthew Galbraith Perry was born into the American ruling class in 1794. He entered the Navy in his teens and was soon a naval officer. It was as a Commodore (a rank with meaning in the American navy, not so in the Royal Navy) that Perry entered Tokyo Bay fifty-nine years later in July 1853, in command of four fighting ships, two under sail and two powered by the new steam engines. Japan had been closed to foreign conact for more than two hundred years because the Tokugawa Shogunate feared foreign trading would allow rebellious warlords to become rich, allowing them to buy foreign arms. Commodore Perry’s brief from his president had clarified that the US wanted to extend and expand her trade in the Far East, especially coal supplies from Japan for US ships trading with China. Continue reading

US President Monroe & his Doctrine

/ biography.com

/ biography.com

James Monroe was born in Virginia in 1758, and became the 5th President of the United States. He did not shine as a diplomat but he did manage to orchestrate the Louisiana Purchase (q.v.), one of the most important facets of US history. He became Madison’s Secretary of State in 1811, and was active in the Anglo-American War of 1812-14.

In 1817 he became President, worried by the question of slavery, because though he was not officially an abolutionist he knew that this canker on the American soul was evil. When black people were occasionally freed he encouraged sending them to Liberia, and got that country’s capital Monrovia named after him. Continue reading

New France & the North American fur trade

Fur trading with Native Americans in Canada / herbmuseum.ca

Fur trading with Native Americans in Canada / herbmuseum.ca

The name ‘New France’, which sounds rather arbitrary, was the name given to all the North American territories France claimed to own between 1524 and 1803. In reality, it is a term used for the north/eastern colonies. In 1534 Cartier placed a cross in the name of the King of France on a shore of Gaspée Lake, taking all that territory for France. It was not to be, however, though Quebec, founded in 1608 by Champlain, was used as a base for exploration and fur trading. The same man got a large (and very cold) lake in the northern United States (New York State) named after him.

   Quebec naturally became the centre of operations for the French colony in Canada. In 1663 it was a royal province with a Governor, responsible for defence matters in particular and foreign relations in general. Justice was administered there, and there was a bishop to look after Catholic spiritual affairs.

   Somehow, perhaps because of typical French regimentation and bureaucracy, Quebec had no opportunity to develop early expressions of the sense of community, togetherness and responsibility that was perhaps more typical of the early English colonies in North America. One of the French, Jean Talon, did however encourage and support fishing, farming and lumber work. The latter led to ship-building activity. Tar and potash were produced and the French colonies’ future seemed assured and proficient.

The Fur Trade

The lengthy history of the fur trade in North America is closely linked with exploration of the continent, and the struggle between France and Britain to control it. At first the trade was centred along the banks of the St. Laurence River and the Atlantic coasts around Newfoundland and Acadia in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Furs were brought to the trading posts by Native Americans (q.v.) attracted by cheap trinkets and other goods manufactured for the purpose. It was not fair exchange, but the Native Americans did not know this yet.

   Samuel de Champlain (see above) established himself at Quebec and enjoyed successful contact with the Algonquin and Huron tribes (q.v.), aiding them in their age old conflict with the Iroquois (q.v.). With exploration and opening up of new territories spreading fast it was known by the end of the seventeenth century that something had to give; the French were sandwiched between the British colonies to the south and the formidable Hudson’s Bay Company (founded 1670), though the latter had in fact been set up as a result of information from two disaffected French traders.

   Meanwhile, the Iroquois were bringing trade into British hands at Albany; the French responded by building a chain of forts and trading posts, which should have brought under their control the Great Lakes region and the upper Mississippi as well as the valleys of the Ohio. But then, in 1763 came the cession of New France to Britain.

   In the early years of the nineteenth century the north-western fur trade was much contested between the ‘independents’, organized by the North West Company. For instance, the Company opened up new trade routes right across the continent to the Pacific coast, only to find John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company already established, plus branches of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The two Canadian companies merged in 1821, while the HBC organized the fur trade on a continental basis, surrendering its lands to the Dominion in 1869. This did not prevent it from becoming the most important economic force in the north.

Andrew Jackson

/ de-wikipedia.org

/ de-wikipedia.org

Son of an Ulsterman, Jackson was born in South Carolina 1767, a true-grit Southerner. Fame was first achieved by his leadership and reputation for courage in fighting the Creek Indians.Though he was young, his men called him Old Hickory. He broke up the Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, and, inevitably took half their territory. To make a point, plenty of other white soldiers would have taken all of it.

   Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi were therefore opening up with more safety for white settlers. In the Anglo-American War, now with the rank of General, he beat up the British redcoats at New Orleans in January, 1815, after which he became an American hero, and rich as well, as he bought cheaply some of the lands he had fought for successfully, and exploited them. Among other things, he dealt stupendously in slaves. Continue reading

Oregon: boundary dispute & the Trail

Women drivers guiarding their wagon on the Oregon Trail, a contemporary photograph / my americanodyssey.com

Women drivers guarding their wagon on the Oregon Trail, a contemporary photograph / my americanodyssey.com

Between 1843 and 1846 the vast Oregon territory in the United States of America became a subject for dispute between Britain and the States, despite the fact that the latter had declared itself independent in 1776, sixty-seven years earlier. Oregon was a huge area stretching north from California to the borders of Alaska, and west from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific. British claims were based on Cook’s charting of part of the coast in 1778. US claims were centred on Robert Grey’s discovery of the Columbia river in 1792, and in part on the findings of the Lewis and Clark expedition. After the successful Louisiana Purchase, President Jefferson had sent his own private secretary Meriweather Lewis, accompanied by William Clark on an expedition to find new territory and another possible route to the Pacific. They followed the Missouri river to its headwaters in May, 1804, and then crossed the Rockies. Via the three rivers Clearwater, Snake and Columbia they got to the Pacific coast in November, 1805 after a heroic and arduous journey of seventeenth months duration, covering more than four thousand miles. Back in St. Louis, where the expedition had started in September 1806, they presented maps, botanical specimens and a load of information on Native American habits, strategies and customs. Jefferson insisted that the Lewis and Clark expedition strengthened the US claim to Oregon, as well as stimulating the fur trade. Continue reading