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The Civil War 1860-1865


AS THE Presidential elections of 1860 drew near, the Democratic party was as hopelessly divided as the nation. The Southern Democrats broke away from the party and nominated John C. Brekinridge of Kentucky as their candidate. He demanded that Congress pass laws protecting slavery in all the American territories, whether the people of the territories wanted slavery or not. Democrats from the northern and border states nominated Stephen A. Douglas, who promised to allow each new state in the West to decide the slavery question tor itself by popular vote. With the Democrats divided, the Republicans were almost certain to win the election, but they needed a candidate and a program that would appeal to most of the voters in the free states. They promised free land for all settlers and one of their campaign slogans was “Vote yourself a farm.” They promised factory owners and workers of the Northeast a high import tax to protect American industry. They also promised that the national government would encourage and help pay for the building of a railroad across the continent. The Republicans chose as their candidate Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. He was a Westerner and a man of the people who had risen in life by his own labour and ability. Even more important politically, he had made fewer enemies than any of the other leading candidates. He was known to be a moderate and sensible man; he was no Abolitionist or extremist. At the same time, he was firmly opposed to slavery and supported the Republican position that slavery must not be allowed to spread beyond the South. THE SOUTH SECEDES While others argued whether or not slavery was lawful under the Constitution, Lincoln went back to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln greatly admired Jefferson. Lincoln maintained …

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The American Experiment 1787 – 1801


THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION created a republic of thirteen states, the first large republic in history. The nation was to be ruled, not by a single man or group of men, but by the people themselves. The whole world watched the American experiment. After all, fighting a revolution and setting up a republic was one thing; making it work was another. Would the people have enough intelligence and strength of will to obey laws they had made themselves? The monarchs and aristocrats of Europe smiled, sure that they knew the answer. Why, the very idea of a republic was a joke! People were too stupid and selfish to govern themselves. Before long, the United States would become a kingdom or a dictatorship. Indeed, for a while it seemed as though the kings and aristocrats would be proved right. Under the Articles of Confederation, the central government of the United States had no power to speak of. It could not tax, or regulate trade, or enforce the law and each of the thirteen states could do as it pleased. Many Americans, including the leaders of the revolution, began to realize that the liberties they had fought for were in danger. If the thirteen states were not brought together under one set of laws and one strong central government, they would break up into separate little states and they might easily fall to someone who set himself up as a king or military dictator. The leaders of the Revolution — George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton and others — agreed that the Articles of Confederation were too weak and that something had to be done. Thanks to their efforts, a convention was held in Philadelphia in 1787. All the states sent delegates, who soon came to the conclusion that the Articles …

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The Old Fox 1776-1777


The cold winter winds howled through the streets of New York, but the houses were filled with warmth, good cheer and the merry crackle of hearth fires. It was late in December of 1776. Six months earlier the city had been the headquarters of General Washington’s ragged army of patriots. Now it was in the hands of the British and they were in a mood to celebrate. Some redcoats were making ready for Christmas. Others were writing long letters home to England, saying that the war was almost over. They told how Washington had been driven out of New York, how the British had stormed Fort Washington just north of the city and captured 2,600 American troops and large stores of military supplies. They told how Washington’s army had crossed the Hudson River and how General Cornwallis, with a large force of redcoats and Hessians, had chased him across the state of New Jersey. At his headquarters in New York, General Howe was preparing to spend a pleasant winter among his loyalist friends. He had many reasons for being cheerful. On December 13th, he had captured General Charles Lee, second in command of the American forces under Washington. The British had met with little resistance as they chased Washington through New Jersey and now some British units were as deep into New Jersey as Bordentown, only twenty-five miles from Philadelphia. Howe was particularly pleased by the fact that thousands of colonists in New Jersey had welcomed the British and had taken advantage of his offer to pardon all who renewed their oaths of allegiance to King George. What was left of Washington’s army had escaped across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Howe knew that most of the troops under Washington would be free to go home after their term of …

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A Divided Country 1776


One chilly morning in April, General Howe stepped out of his Boston headquarters and stared in amazement at a hill called Dorchester Heights, to the south of the city. It had been fortified during the night by George Washington’s rebel army. Strong breastworks of ice blocks and brown earth ran along the crest of the bill. Above the steepest slopes, barrels filled with rocks stood balanced, ready to be sent tumbling down the hill in the path of attacking troops. Studying the hill through his glass, Howe could make out several companies of riflemen and some units with muskets. What disturbed him most were the cannon, all well placed on the top of the hill where they could pound Boston and a good part of the Royal Fleet in the harbour. None of the British cannon, from their low positions‚ could possibly place their shots farther than the bottom of the hill. Howe made ready to attack, then changed his mind, probably haunted by the horrors of Bunker Hill. The British began making preparations to withdraw from the city. For the redcoats, the act of leaving Boston must have seemed like an escape from a prison city. They had been hemmed in there for many months, overcrowded‚ short of food and fuel. The civilian population had increased steadily, for a constant flow of colonial refugees had poured into the city to seek the protection of the British army. These refugees supported the mother country and called themselves loyalists because of their loyalty to the king. During the winter they had caused serious food and housing problems and greatly endangered the health of all. WASHINGTON TAKES BOSTON It may have been one of the loyalists who carried smallpox into the city. The disease had spread rapidly and raged for several weeks. …

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The Stamp Act, 1765 – 1772

stamp act

Another unpopular step England took after the war was to reorganize her defense system in the colonies. The French and Indian War had proved to the British that the colonies could not be depended upon to defend themselves. Some new system had to be worked out in North America, to defend not only the colonies, but also Canada, Florida and the wilderness east of the Mississippi. England decided to leave this task to a standing army of ten thousand British redcoats. Such an army would cost a great deal of money. Taxpayers in England were already paying very high taxes and could not be asked to pay more. Their taxes supported the powerful British navy, which protected the colonies as well as the mother country. It seemed no more than fair that the colonies should pay at least part of the expenses of the standing army in North America. The soldiers were there, after all, for their own protection. Accordingly, the colonies were given a year to raise the money themselves. They were warned that England would have to tax them if they failed to do so. For a year the colonists did nothing. They saw no need of supporting an army they had not asked for and did not want. Since the French forces had been driven from American soil, a large standing army seemed unnecessary. The colonists suspected that the real purpose of the army was to strengthen British control over all the colonial governments. England’s law-making body in London, the British Parliament, finally passed the Stamp Act in 1765. It required the colonists to buy stamps from British tax collectors. These stamps were to be placed on all newspapers, playing cards, dice and almanacs sold in the colonies and also on certain papers having to do with …

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