King Cotton And The South - March To The West And Policies Of The 1820s
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Cotton Culture in the South. Rarely has a technological innovation influenced the course of a region's history more profoundly than did the invention of the cotton gin in 1794. It is doubtful whether slavery could have remained economically viable without it. Most certainly it shaped the course of Southern history, making the South the pre-eminent supplier of raw cotton for the swiftly expanding textile industries of Great Britain, western Europe, and the North. The uneasy conscience of the South was soothed by the huge profits drawn from cotton crops that increased from 3,000 bales in 1790 to more than 5,000,000 bales in 1859. The insatiable demand for "white wool" received further impetus when short-staple cotton superseded the long-staple cotton of the Sea Islands during the first two decades of the nineteenth century. The new cotton, hardy and inexpensive, rapidly spread across the interior regions of the South. It is uncertain whether this new cotton culture required slave labor to produce it; but it provided a rationale for maintaining the institution. Unable to believe a Negro the equal of a white man, the Southerner sought for, and found, a confirmation of the permanence of Negro slavery. As the Southern planters moved into the Southwest, they carried slavery along with them.
The Aristocratic Ideal. Less obvious as a distinguishing factor was the aristocratic tradition that pervaded the South. The politics and society of the region were dominated by comparatively few families, often intermarried and almost unanimously dedicated to the preservation of slavery - not because they approved of slavery itself, but because they feared that any change would undermine the system of privilege to which they were accustomed. "I am an aristocrat," John Randolph of Roanoke had bluntly proclaimed. "I love liberty, I hate equality." Anything threatening the status quo could provoke such a bitter response.
The Missouri Compromise. An event that was the precursor of change was the proposal of James Tallmadge, congressman from New York. On February 13, 1819, he offered an amendment to the Missouri Enabling Bill providing for Missouri's admission to statehood. It provided: That the further introduction of slavery or involuntary servitude be prohibited, except for the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: and that all children born within the said State [of Missouri] after the admission thereof into the Union shall be free, but may be held to service until the age of twenty-five years.
Whatever the congressman's motives, his amendment struck a responsive chord throughout the North and West, where there existed an ill-concealed hostility to the constitutional provision that granted the South representation for three-fifths of its Negro slaves. These sentiments were displayed in the strictly sectional vote by which the House of Representatives approved the amendment. It scarcely mattered that the Senate refused to subscribe to the House's vote; both North and South erupted into a violent and revealing debate. Thomas Jefferson described it as "aSomberly, he prophesied that it would prove "the knell of the Union."
Reaction to the Compromise Debate. Jefferson feared that the issue once joined would "never be obliterated." As a Southerner, he was prepared for the end of slavery provided that the emancipated Negroes were removed from the South. But his hopes represented a passing viewpoint. Northerners, many of them genuinely horrified, heard Southern congressmen extol the virtues of the institution and claim that slavery redeemed not only the slave but the enslaver. The Bible was invoked in the argument: "The Scriptures teach us that slavery was universally practiced among the holy fathers." John Quincy Adams, in the privacy of his diary, unburdened himself of the thought that if the Union were ever to dissolve, it would be on the question of slavery that it should break. The conflict was resolved with a compromise (the Missouri Compromise) that admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. It also closed the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase north of latitude 36° 30' to slavery. For the moment the issue was at rest; at no point had anyone proposed the outright abolition of slavery. But the issue, once raised, could only be muted, not ended. As Jefferson noted, "This is a reprieve only, not a final sentence."
The Administration Of John Quincy Adams
For almost a quarter of a century, Virginians had filled the presidency. By 1820 the Jeffersonians had irretrievably shattered the Federalist Party. Only the withholding of one vote prevented Monroe from obtaining unanimous electoral support. Superficially, one would have had to conclude that Monroe had great popular support; in fact, he was the legatee of monumental indifference. It was his fate to preside over the regrouping of the political parties. In their moment of absolute triumph, the Jeffersonians began their rapid slide toward disintegration.
Monroe and the Collapse of the Jeffersonian Party. For eight years, Monroe strove to be President for all the people. His efforts, though laudable, were disastrous for his party. He deprived it of an issue, a platform, or a slogan with which to mobilize the voter. The collapse of the Federalists left the Jeffersonians with the only prospective presidential candidates - John Quincy Adams, John Caldwell Calhoun, Henry Clay, William Crawford, and Andrew Jackson. All sought the presidency as Republicans. As they struggled toward their goal, they fragmented the Republican Party. The presidential caucus had traditionally chosen the President, but when called upon to perform its function in 1824 it succeeded only in revealing the near-anarchy that plagued the Republican Party. William Crawford, the bulky Secretary of the Treasury, though the nominal choice of the Virginia regency and the ultimate choice of the presidential caucus, had all the opposition focused upon him. By using rumors, innuendoes, and distorted facts, Crawford's opponents eliminated him from the race. Calhoun suffered the same fate from too intimate an identification with the South. Known as a man of Southern principles and Northern policies, he was mistrusted by all. In the end only the suave Clay, the dour Adams, and the enigmatic Jackson had a real chance of election. As it turned out, no one candidate gained the necessary electoral majority, and the election was thrown into the House of Representatives for final settlement.
The Election of 1824. So divided was the electorate in 1824 that it might be best described as the "Election of Undecided Feelings." Jackson had obtained a slight plurality over his opponents, but he had nowhere near a majority. Nevertheless, he believed himself to be the only candidate who could be considered popularly chosen. His supporters in Congress watched with anger as Henry Clay, excluded from the race as low man, threw his support to John Quincy Adams. It was enough to make the Secretary of State the President-elect. On February 9, 1825, thirteen states cast their votes for Adams; seven states voted for Jackson; and four states backed Crawford. The result was constitutional but unpopular. The unhappy Adams accepted his election as hardly "satisfactory to my pride or . . . just desire, with perhaps two-thirds of the whole people adverse to the actual result." Nor were the unhappy supporters of Jackson to let Adams forget the circumstances of his election.
The Corrupt Bargain. The new President had always viewed life as an extended exercise in rigorous morality. No man could so justifiably claim as he that his was the existence of a moral athlete. Anticipating election as a reward for service, he had been compelled to electioneer, to make deals, to promise patronage, and to converse with his moral inferiors. Desperately wanting public recognition, he had never learned how to court public affection. He had both the virtue and the vice of unyielding principle. And having won the game, he was overwhelmed with a sense of guilt, and seemed almost to believe the Jacksonians' charge that he had won election through a corrupt deal.
The Appointment of Clay. The charge had originated when Adams had appointed Henry Clay to the State Department after the election. It is true that supporters of Jackson, Crawford, and Adams had all courted Clay's support and all three undoubtedly were prepared to pay a good price for his backing But it was Adams who, on January 9, 1825, succeeded in coming to an understanding with Clay in which Clay had agreed to use his influence among his congressional followers to build support for Adams. Though the State Department was not specifically promised to Clay, his subsequent appointment was a natural reward for his sturdy efforts on behalf of Adams. The two men were in essential agreement on one thing: a military man, especially one with the impulsive habits of Jackson, was ill-equipped to fill the presidency. They were not alone in their unease: Jefferson had warned, "I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President. He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place." Such was the Republican judgment of the man who was destined to later revolutionize American politics.
Adams' Policies. Adams struggled to remove the cloud under which his administration was born. He organized his cabinet to include supporters of most of the major figures in the recent election. Only supporters of Jackson were conspicuously absent. But of equal consequence was Adams' failure to appoint men truly committed to his own cause. He justified his course by stating that appointments should be yielded "to talents and virtue alone" rather than to those "who bore the badge of party communion." It was a plea for his own acceptance. His inaugural address made that impossible.
Adams and the Doctrine of Positive Government. In a nation dominated by a growing spirit of laissez-faire, Adams had the temerity to call for a widening of the scope of governmental activity. With eloquent precision he reminded the nation that "liberty is power; that the nation blessed with the largest portion of liberty must in proportion to its numbers be the most powerful nation upon earth, and that the tenure of power by man is, in the moral purposes of his Creator, upon condition that it shall be exercised to ends of beneficence, to improve the condition of himself and his fellow-men." From this proposition he deduced a call for a "career of public improvement." From all sides came unwarranted charges of tyranny, usurpation, monarchy, and neofederalism. The Sage of Monticello saw in Adams' proposals an effort to revive a moribund federalism which would abandon "the feelings and principles of '76," erect "an aristocracy, founded on banking institutions, and moneyed incorporations" and ride roughshod "over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry." The charge of corruption was further supplemented with another accusation that foresaw Adams striving to erect a "despotism of the worse tendencies." Adams responded that his single goal was to put the strength of the nation behind a program of public improvements; still he was indicted as a traitor to the Jeffersonian inheritance. He perversely refused to take the one step that might have saved him. No man was to be removed from office "for merely preferring another candidate for the presidency." Like his father before him, he retained cabinet members, such as Postmaster General John McLean, who were known to be bitterly hostile to him. His administration was doomed to frustration.