In the eyes of most Americans, the first new nation had a mission to stand as an example to the world.  The concept of the Americas as having a special mission carried spiritual overtones. The religious dedication increased in the Great Awakening, which reinforced the idea of national purpose.

 

The combination of religious belief and social idealism brought major reforms and advances in human rights. It also brought disappointments that sometimes festered into cynicism and alienation.

 

 The currents of the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening flowed into the nineteenth Century and in different ways eroded the remnants of the Calvinist orthodoxy.

 

Enlightenment rationalism increasingly stressed human’s inherent goodness rather than depravity and it encourage a belief in social progress and the promise of individual perfectibility.

 

Enlightenment rationalism soon began to make deep inroads into the American Protestantism. The old puritan churches around Boston proved to be the most vulnerable to the logic of the Enlightenment. After a strain of rationalism ran through the puritan belief many on them went back to the traditional rites of the Episcopal Church.

 

By the end of the eighteenth century, many people drifted into Unitarianism, a belief that focused on the oneness and benevolence of God, the inherent goodness of humans and the dominance of reason and conscience over established creeds and confessions.

 

A parallel movement, Universalism, attracted a different social group: working class people of a more humble status. In 1779 John Murray founded the first Universalist Church at Gloucester, Massachusetts.

 

Universalism stressed the salvation of all men and women, not just a predestined few.  They taught that God was merciful, and the unregenerate would suffer in proportion to their sins.

 

By the end of the eighteenth century, Enlightenment secularism made deep inroads into American thought. Since then Americans have remained profoundly religious people.

 

In its frontier phase, the Second Awakening like the first generated great excitement and strange manifestations. It gave birth to a new institution where missionaries found ready audiences among lonely frontier folk hungry for spiritual intensity and a sense of community.

 

Among the established religious sections:

v     The Presbyterians were entrenched among the Scotch-Irish from Pennsylvania to Georgia. They gained further from the plan of Union worked out in 1801 with the Congregationalists of Connecticut and later with other States.

v     The Baptists embraced simplicity of doctrine and organization that appealed especially to the common people of the frontier. Their theology was grounded in the infallibility of the Bible and the recognition of people’s innate depravity and they stressed the equality of all men and women regardless of one’s wealth.

 

v     The Methodists, who shared the Baptists emphasis on salvation by free will, established a much more centralized church structure, which ironically may have been the most effective way evangelical method of all: the circuit rider who sought out people in the most remote areas with the message of salvation as a gift free for the taking.

 

Peter Cartwright emerged as the most successful Methodist “circuit rider”, and he grew justly famous for his sermons.  By the 1840s the Methodists had grown into the largest Protestant Church in the country.

 

The Great revival spread quickly through the west and into more settled regions back east.  Camp meeting usually took place in the summer or fall. People came from far and wide camping in wagons, tents, or crude shacks.

 

The largest camp meetings tended to be ecumenical affairs, with Baptist, Methodists, and Presbyterian ministers working as a team. Crowds numbered in the thousands

 

Camp meetings also brought a more settled community life through the churches they spawned, and they helped spread a more democratic faith among the frontier people.

 

Regions swept by such revival fevers power might be compared to forests devastated by fire. In 1830-18331 alone, the number of Churches in New England grew by one third.

 

Lyman Beecher called the Awakening of 1831 “the greatest work of God, and the greatest revival of religion, that the world has ever seen”.

 

In 1839 a Charles Grandison Finney preached for six-months in Rochester and helped generate 100,000 conversions, Raised in the back woods of New York he never heard the word of God except for in profanity.

 

He left home to study Law   and then began his legal practice in Adams New York. After visiting a Presbyterian church his conscience began to gnaw at him.  In 1821 he fled to the edge of town and a “mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost overwhelmed him”.

 

The next day he announced his new profession. In 1823 Finney was ordained and for the next decade he subjected the “Burned over district” to yet another scorching.

 

The “Burned over district” gave rise to several new religious departures, of which the most important was the Church of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons.

 

The founder, Joseph Smith Jr he began forming his own Church in 1830 and within a few years he had gathered converts by the thousands, most of them New Englanders.  They found in Mormonism the promise of a pure kingdom of Christ in America and an alternative to the social turmoil and the degrading materialism of the era.

 

Most of the first Mormons were poor farm folk who were in search for better lands and lives; they were believer of popular magic and conjuring. Smith himself was from a long line of village magicians.

 

After the murder of Smith, Brigham Young chose a new land near the Great Salt Lake in Utah, despite its isolation it was close enough to the Oregon Trail for the saints to prosper by trade with passing gentiles.

 

Early in 1846 a small group began their journey to the new land and in the fall of 1846 15,000 had reached the winter quarters along the Missouri river.  In 1847 they arrived at Salt Lake only to find “a broad and barren land surrounded by mountains.

 

By 1869 some 80,000 Mormons had settled in Utah. Today there are nearly 9 million Mormons, and it is the fastest growing religion in the world.

 

Romanticism in America

The revival of emotional piety during the early 1800s represented a widespread tendency throughout the Western World to accentuate the stirrings of the spirit over the dry logic of reason and the allure of material gain.

 

By the 1780s, a revolt was brewing in Europe against the well-ordered world of the enlightened thinkers.

 

Americans also took readily to the romantics’ emphasis on individualism, idealizing now the virtues of common people, now the idea of original or creative genius in the artist, the author, or the great personality.

 

The most intense expression of romantic ideals was the transcendentalist movement of New England, which drew its name from its emphasis on those things that rose above the limits of reason.

 

More than any other person Ralph Waldo Emerson spread the transcendentalist gospel. From a line of New England ministers, he set out to be a Unitarian parson. He settled in Concord to take up a life of an essayist, poet, and popular speaker on the lecture circuit, preaching the good news of optimism, self-reliance, and the individual’s unlimited potential.

 

Emerson’s notable lecture “The American Scholar” delivered at Harvard in 1837, urged young Americans to put aside their awe of European culture and explore their own new world.

 

Emerson’s young friend and Concord neighbor, Henry David Thoreau, practiced the reflective self-reliance that Emerson preached. 

 

Thoreau himself marched to a different drum all his life.  After Harvard where he exhausted the resources of the library in vast bouts of reading, and after a brief stint as a teacher in which he got in trouble for refusing to cane students, he settled down to eke out a living through his families cottage industry of pencil making.

 

On July 4, 1845 he took to the woods to live in a cabin he had built on Emerson’s land beside Walden Pond.  He wanted to see how far he could free himself from the complexities of and hypocrisies of modern commercial life, and devoted his time to observation, reflection, and writing.

 

While Thoreau was at Walden Pond, the Mexican War erupted.  Believing it an unjust War to advance the cause of slavery, he refused to pay his state poll tax as a gesture of opposition, for which he was put in jail (for one night; an aunt paid his taxes).

 

The incident as so trivial as to be almost comic, but out of it grew the classic essay “Civil Disobedience”(1849), which was later to influence the passive-resistance movements of Mahatma Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King Jr in the American South.

 

“ If a law is of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to                                                                   another,” Thoreau wrote, “then I say break the law”.

 

The broadening ripples of influence more than a century after Thoreau’s death show the impact a contemplative person can have on the world of action.

 

Thoreau and the transcendentalists largely supplied the force of an animating idea:  people must follow their consciences. Though these thinkers fascinated only a small following among the public at large in their own time, they inspired reform movements and were the quickening force for generations of writers that produced the first great classic of American Literature.

 

The Flowering of American Literature

Between 1850-1855 American saw the publication of Representative Men by Emerson, Walden by Thoreau, The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Moby- Dick by Herman Melville, and Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.

 

As the critic F.O. Mathiessen wrote in his book American Renaissance:  “you might search all the rest of the American Literature without being able to collect a group of books equal to these in imaginative quality”.

 

Nathaniel Hawthorn, the supreme writer of the New England group, never shared the sunny optimism of his neighbors or their perfectionist belief in reform.

 

He lived in both Concord and Salem, and was frequently haunted by the knowledge of evil bequeathed to him from his Puritan forebears, one of whom had been a judge at the Salem witchcraft trial.

 

He went to college in Bowdoin and worked in obscurity in Salem, he slowly began to sell a few stories and finally earned a degree of fame for his collection of Twice Told Tales (1837) and the Scarlet letter (1850).

 

In these, and most of his later works he presented powerful moral allegories.  His themes often examined sin and its consequences: pride and selfishness, secret guilt, selfish egotism, the impossibility of rooting sin out of the human soul.

 

The flowering of New England also featured a four-some (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Homes Sr, and James Russell Lowell) of poets who shaped the American imagination in a day when poetry was still accessible to a wide public.

 

A fifth poet Emily Dickinson was probably the most original and powerful of the bunch. As she once poetically wrote “success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed”.

 

Born in Amherst in 1830, the child of a prominent stern father and gentle mother, she received a first rate secondary education and then attended the New Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, she never married and lived out her life in her parents home She died in 1886 and at that time only two of her poems had been published (anonymously).

 

Her themes were elemental:  life, death, fear, loneliness, nature, and above all God, a  “Force illegible,” a “distant stately lover”.

 

Washington Irving’s The Sketch Book (1820) and James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy (1821) drew wide notice in both Britain and in America.

 

Irving showed that the American could after all make a career of literature.  He was the first to show that authentic American themes could draw a wide audience. However even the most “American” of his stories, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow drew heavily on German folk tales.

 

Cooper, a country gentleman, got his start as a writer on a bet with his wife that he could write a better novel than one they had just read. He wrote The Pioneers (1823) and The Leather- Stocking Tales.

 

By the 1830’s and 1840’s new major talents had come to the scene.  Edgar Allen Poe, born in Boston but raised in Virginia, was a literary genius and probably the most important American writer of the times.

 

The tormented, heavy-drinking Poe was the master of Gothic horror in the short story and the inventor of the detective story and its major conventions.

 

He judged prose by its ability to provoke emotional tension, and since he considered fear to be the most powerful emotion, he focused his efforts on making the grotesque and supernatural seem disturbingly real to his readers.Anyone who has read The Tell-Tale Heart or The Pit and the Pendulum can testify to his success.

 

Herman Melville was a New Yorker whose reputation went into decline after his initial success, and was dramatically revived in the twentieth century.

 

Many of his readers took his work as fictional and he was mostly inspired to write novels of nautical adventures, producing one of the worlds greatest novels Moby Dick (1851).  Neither the public nor the critics accepted the novel at the time, which led to the decline in Melville’s career.

 

The most provocative American writer during the antebellum period was Walt Whitman.  The city fascinated him and he drew much of his editorial opinions and poetic inspirations from such things as shipyards, crowds, factories, and shop windows.

 

The renaissance in literature coincided with a massive expansion in the popular press.  The steam driven Napier press introduced from England in 1825, could print 4,000 sheets of newsprint in an hour.

 

Richard Hoe of New York improved upon it, inventing in 1847 the Hoe rotary press, which printed 20,000 sheets in an hour.  The chief beneficiary of a rising revulsion against the gutter press was the New York Tribune, founded as a Whig organ in 1841.

 

Horace Greeley became the most important journalist of the era; he announced that the New York Tribune would be a cheap but decent paper.  The paper would amuse its readers with its wholesome human-interest stories.

 

By 1840, according to census data, some 78% of the population and 91% of whites could read and write. It appears that since colonial times Americans had had the highest literacy rate in the western world.

 

By the 1830’s the demand for public schools was rising fast. Workers wanted free schools to be able to give their children a chance at the American dream. For all the effort to establish state schools, the conditions were often very poor. There were insufficient funds for buildings, books, equipment, and teachers were poorly paid.

 

The most widespread and effective means of popular education was the lyceum movement, which aimed to diffuse knowledge through public lectures.  Professional agencies provided speakers and performers of all kinds, in literature, science, music, humor, travel, and other fields.

 

In 1803 Salisbury, Connecticut opened a free library for children and in 1833 Peterborough, New Hampshire, established a tax-supported library open to all.  The opening of the Boston Public Library in 1851 was a turning point and by 1860 there were approximately 10,000 public libraries (not all completely free) housing some eight million volumes.

 

The post-Revolutionary proliferation of colleges continued after 1800 with the spread of small church schools and state universities.  Of the 78 colleges and universities in 1840, 35 of them had been founded after 1830, almost all as church schools.

 

Technical education grew slowly. The US Military Academy at West Point, founded in 1802 and the Naval Academy at Annapolis opened in 1845, training a limited number of engineers

 

Elementary education for girls met with general acceptance but anything beyond that did not. Many men and women thought that a higher education unsuited a woman’s destiny in life.

 

In 1850 although higher education for women initially met with some resistance, female seminaries such as The George Barrell Emerson School, in Boston, which started in the 1820’s and 1830’s, taught women mathematics, physics, and history as well as music, art, and the social amenities.

 

Manifest Destiny

 

During the 1840’s the quest for a better chance and more living room, continued to excite the American imagination. By 1860 some 4.3 million people had settled in the trans-Mississippi West.

 

Most of these settlers and adventures sought out to exploit the many economic opportunities afforded by the new lands.

 

Trappers and farmers, miners and merchants, hunters, ranchers, teachers, domestics, and prostitutes, among others headed westward seeking their fortunes.  Others sought religious freedom of new converts to Christianity.

 

Whatever the reason, they formed an increasing migratory stream flowing across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains.

 

The Indian and Mexican inhabitants of the region soon found themselves swept aside by successive waves of American settlement.

 

In 1858 President James Buchanan could report that the nation was bound east and west “by a chain of Americans which can never be broken”.

 

William Henry Harrison took office in 1841, elected like Jackson on the strength of his military record and his lack of public stand on key issues.  Harrison served the shortest term of any president, after the longest inaugural address.

 

On April 4, 1841, exactly one month after the inauguration he died of pneumonia at age sixty-eight.  Thus, John Tyler of Virginia, the first vice-president to succeed on the death of a president, served practically all of Harrison’s term.

 

When congress met in a special session in 1841, Clay introduced a series of resolutions designed to supply the platform that the party had evaded in the previous election. The chief points were; repeal of the Independent Treasury Act, establishment of a Third Bank of the United States, distribution to the states of proceeds from public land sales, and a higher tariff.  Clay then set out to push his program through congress. “Tyler dares not resist me, I will drive him before me” said Clay.

 

Tyler it turned out was not easily driven. Although he agreed to allow the repeal of the Independent Treasury Act and signed a higher tariff bill in 1842, Tyler vetoed Clay’s bill for a new national bank.

 

This provoked Tyler’s entire cabinet, with the exception of Webster to resign, in an unprecedented action.  Tyler replaced the defectors with anti-Jackson Democrats like himself who had become Whigs.

 

In foreign relations, on the other hand, developments of immense significance were taking place.  Several unsettled issues had arisen to trouble relations between Britain and the United States.

 

In the 1830’s Canadian nationalists rebelled against British rule, and many of them took refuge across the border in the US.  They viewed their American bases as safe havens, and used the American ship called the Caroline to bring them supplies.

 

In 1837 Canadian militia loyal to England seized the Caroline and set it on fire.

 

Another issue between the two nations involved the suppression of the African Slave Trade, which both the US and Britain had outlawed in 1808.

 

In 1841 Prime Minister Palmerston asserted the right of British patrol off the coast of Africa to board and search vessels flying the American flag to see if they carried slaves. But the American government, mindful of the impressments and seizures during the Napoleonic Wars, refused accept it.

 

IN 1842 The Webster-Ashburton Treaty provided for joint patrols off Africa to suppress the slave trade.

 

The Western Frontier

In the early 1840s, the American people were no more stirred by the quarrels of Tyler and Clay over such issues as banking, tariffs, and distribution, important as they were; what stirred the blood was the mounting evidence that the “empire of freedom” was hurdling the barriers of the Great American Desert and the Rocky Mountains, reaching outward toward the pacific coast.

 

The Western frontier across the Mississippi River differed radically from previous western frontiers encountered by settlers from the East.  Here was a new environment as well as a new culture.

 

 Indians and Mexicans, peoples who had lived in the region for centuries and had established their own distinctive customs and ways of life, already occupied the Great Plains and the Far West.

 

Historians estimate that over 325,000 Indians inhabited the southwest, The Great Plains, and the Pacific Northwest in 1840, when the great migration of white settlers began to pour into the region.

 

These Native Americans were divided into more than 200 different tribes, each with its own language, religion, economic base, kinship practices, and systems of governance.  Some were primarily farmers; others were nomadic hunters who preyed upon game animals as well as other Indians.

 

Some twenty-three tribes resided in the Great Plains, vast grassland stretching from the Mississippi River west to the Rocky Mountains and from Canada to Mexico.  Typically they used buffalo meat for food and transformed the skins into clothing, bedding, and teepee coverings. The bones and horns served as tools and utensils.  Even buffalo manure could be dried and used for fuel.

 

Plains Indians such as the Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Sioux were horse-borne nomads; they moved across the grasslands with the buffalo herds, caring their tepees with them.

 

Disputes over buffalo and hunting grounds provoked clashes between rival tribes, which helps explain the cult of the warrior among the Plains Indians.  Scalping or killing an enemy would earn praise from elders and feathers for their ceremonial headdress.

 

West of the Plains Indians in an arid region including what is today Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Utah were the peaceful Pueblo tribes, Acoma, Hopi, Laguna, Taos, Zia, Zuni.

 

They were sophisticated farmers who lived in adobe villages along rivers that they used to irrigate their crops of corn, beans, and squash.

 

The word Pueblo comes from the Spanish term fro “village”.

 

Their rivals were the Apache and Navajo, warlike hunters who roamed the countryside in small bands and preyed upon the Pueblos.  The Comanche’s, their powerful enemies, in turn, periodically harassed them.

 

To the North, in the Great Basin between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada range, Indians such as the Paiutes and Gosiutes struggled to survive in the harsh, arid region of what is today Nevada, Utah, and eastern California.

 

They traveled in family groups and subsisted on berries, pine nuts, insects, and rodents.  West of the mountains, along the California coast, the Indians lived in small villages.

They gathered wild plants and acorns and were quite adept at fishing in the rivers and bays.  More than 100,000 Indians lived in coastal California in the 1840s.

 

The Indian tribes living along the northwest Pacific coast, Nisqually, Spokane, Yakima, Chinook, and Nez Perce` (pierced noses), enjoyed the most abundant natural resources and the most temperate climate.

 

The ocean and rivers provided bountiful supplies of seafood (whales, salmon, seals and crabs).  The lush forests just east of the coast harbored game, berries, and nuts. And the majestic stands of fir, redwood, and cedar offered wood for cooking and sheltering.

 

All of these Indian tribes eventually felt the unrelenting pressure of white expansion.  Because Indian life on the Plains depended on the buffalo, the influx of white settlers posed a direct threat to their cultural survival.

 

In 1851 US officials invited the Indian tribes from the Northern Plains to a conference held in the grassy valley along the North Platte River, near Ft. Laramie in what is now southwestern Wyoming.

 

Almost 10,000 Indians attended the treaty council. What made this huge gathering even more remarkable is that so many of these tribes were at war with each other.

 

After nearly three weeks of heated discussions and after bestowing on the chiefs a mountain of gifts, federal negotiators and tribal leaders agreed to what became known as the Ft. Laramie Treaty.

 

The American Government promised to provide annual cash payments to the Indians as compensation for the damages caused by wagon trains traversing their hunting grounds.

 

In exchange the Indians agreed to stop harassing white caravans, to allow federal forts to be built, and to confine themselves to a specified area “of limited extent and well-defined boundaries”.

 

Specifically the Indians were restricted to lands north and south of the corridor through which passed the Overland Trail.

 

As American settlers moved westward, they also encountered Spanish-speaking peoples. Many whites were as contemptuous of these people as they were of the Indians.

 

The vast majority of the Spanish-speaking people in what is today the American southwest

Resided in New Mexico.  Most of these were of mixed Indian and Spanish blood and were poor ranch hands or small farmers and herders.

 

In 1807 French forces occupied Spain and imprisoned the king.  This created both consternation and confusion throughout Spain’s colonial possessions, including Mexico.

 

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Creole (Europeans born in the new world) Mexican Priest, took advantage of the fluid situation to organize a revolt of Indians and mestizos (people of mixed Indian and white ancestry) against the Spanish rule in Mexico.

 

In 1811 Spanish troops captured Hidalgo and executed him, Mexicans however continued to yearn for independence.  In 1820, Mexican Creoles again tried to liberate themselves from Spanish authority.

 

By then, the Spanish forces in Mexico had lost much of their cohesion and dedication.  Facing a growing revolt, the last Spanish officials withdrew from Mexico in 1821, and it became an independent nation.

 

In the Northwest, the western frontier consisted of Nebraska, Washington and Oregon Territories.  Fur traders were especially drawn to the Missouri River with its many tributaries.

 

The heyday of the mountain fur trade began in 1822 when a Missouri businessman sent his first trading party to the upper Missouri River, but by 1840 the great days of the western fur trade were over.

 

Spain and Russia had given up their rights to the Oregon Country, leaving Great Britain and the US as the only claimants. Under the Convention of 1818, the two countries had agreed to “joint occupation”.

 

Until the 1830s, however joint occupation had been a legal technicality, because the only American presence was the occasional mountain man who wandered into the Pacific slope or the infrequent trading vessel from Boston, Salem, or New York.

 

Word of Oregon’s fertile soil, temperate climate, and magnificent forests gradually spread eastward.  By the late 1830s, in the midst of economic hard times after the Panic of 1837, a trickle of emigrants was flowing along the Oregon Trail.

 

In 1841 and 1842 the first sizable wagon trains made the trip, and in 1843 the movement became a mass migration.  By 1845 there were about 5,000 settlers in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

 

California was also an alluring attraction for new settlers and entrepreneurs.  It first felt the influence of European culture in 1769, when Spain grew concerned about Russian fur and seal traders moving south along the Pacific coast from their base in Alaska.

 

The Spanish discovered San Francisco Bay and constructed presidios (military garrisons) at San Diego and Monterey.  Even more important, Franciscan friars led by Junipero Serra established a mission at San Diego.

 

Over the next fifty years Franciscans built twenty more missions spaced a days journey apart along the coast from San Diego to San Francisco.

 

By 1803, 40% of California’s Native Americans population had embraced Catholicism, and within three decades infectious diseases transmitted by Europeans settlers ravaged the Indian population, leaving only a third as many by 1833 as in 1803.

 

By the start of 1846 there were perhaps 800 Americans in California, along with some 8,000-12,000 Californios of Spanish decent.

 

Between 1841-1867 some 350,000 made the arduous trek to California or Oregon, while hundreds of thousands of others settled along the way in Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, and other areas.

 

After gaining its independence in 1821, the new government of Mexico was much more interested in trade with the Americas than Spain had been.  In Spanish-controlled Santa Fe, all commerce with the US had been banned. However after 1821 trade flourished.

 

By the 1830s there was so much commercial activity between Mexico and St. Louis that the Mexican silver peso became the primary medium of exchange in Missouri.

 

The trades along the Santa Fe Trail pioneered more than a new trail.  They showed that heavy wagons could cross the plains and the mountains, and they developed the technique of organized caravans for common protection.

 

On the Overland Trail (also known as the Oregon Trail) people bound for Oregon and California traveled in caravans of wagons.  Most of the people were settlers rather than traders, and traveled in family groups from all over the US.

 

By 1845 some 5,000 people were making the arduous journey annually. The discovery of Gold in California in 1848 brought some 30,000 pioneers along the Oregon Trail in 1849. The number had risen up to 55,000 by 1850, the peak year of travel along the Trail.

 

The journey west was incredibly difficult and few who embarked on their western quest were adequately prepared for the ordeals they were going to face.

 

The carcasses of mules, oxen, and wagons from previous groups signaled the difficulties they would confront.  On average there was one grave every eight yards along the trail between the Missouri River and the Willamette Valley. Some 20,000 pioneers died in all.

 

Initially the pioneers along the Oregon Trail adopted the same divisions of labor used back east.  Women cooked, washed, sewed, and monitored the children while the men drove the wagons, tended the horses and cattle, and handled the heavy labor.

 

However the unique demands of the trail soon dissolved such neat distinctions and posed new tasks.  Women found themselves gathering buffalo dung for fuel, pitching in to help dislodge a wagon mired in mud, helping to construct a makeshift bridge, or participating in a variety of other unladylike activities.

 

Yet only rarely did the men assume conventional female roles.  Most of the older women strove to keep distinct traditional boundaries between men and women’s work, and quarrels frequently erupted.

 

Despite the hardships and dangers of the overland crossing, the Far West proved an irresistible attraction.  In 1842 John Charles Fremont, “the pathfinder” mapped the Oregon Trail, after he had mainly found the paths that the mountain men had shown him.

 

American presidents, beginning with Jackson tried to acquire at least northern California, down to San Francisco Bay, by purchase from Mexico.  Political conditions in Mexico left the remote territory in near anarchy much of the time, as governors came and went in rapid succession. By the time Americans were ready to fire the spark of rebellion in California, there was little will in Mexico to resist.

 

The Mexican War

 

On March 6, 18445 two days after Polk took office, the Mexican ambassador broke off relations and left for home to protest the annexation of Texas.  When an effort at negotiations failed, Polk focused his efforts on unilateral initiatives.

 

The last hope for peace died when John Slidell, sent to Mexico City to negotiate a settlement, finally gave up on his mission in March 1846.  Polk decided that he could only achieve his purpose by force. And he signed the declaration of war on May 13, 1846.

 

Both the US and Mexico were not prepared for the war.  American policy had been incredibly reckless, risking war with both Britain and Mexico while doing nothing to strengthen armed forces until the war came.

 

Nevertheless, being used to a rough-and-tumble life, the motley American troops outmatched larger Mexican forces, which had their own problems with training, discipline, and munitions. Many of the Mexicans were pressed into service or requited from prisons, and they made less than enthusiastic fighters.

 

Along the Pacific coast, conquest was well underway before definite news of the Mexican War arrived.  When the Mexican commandant at Monterey ordered John C Fremont out of the Salinas Valley, at first Fremont refused to go, but he soon changed his mind and headed for Oregon.

 

In 1846 he and his men moved south again, this time into the Sacramento Valley.  American sin the area fell upon Sonoma on June 14, proclaimed the “Republic of California”, and hoisted a hastily designed Bear Flag, a grizzly bear and star painted on white cloth (a version which later became the state flag).

 

After nearly two year of battles and the fall of the capital, Santa Anna resigned and a month later left the country.  Meanwhile Polk had appointed Nicholas P. Trist as chief negotiator.

 

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848; Mexico gave up all claims to Texas above the Rio Grande and ceded California and New Mexico to the US.  In return the US agreed to pay Mexico 415 million and assume the claims of American citizens against Mexico up to a total of $3.25 million.

 

The War’s Legacies:

 

The 17 month long war cost the US  1,721 killed, 4,102 wounded and far more than 11,155 were dead from disease.

 

It remains the deadliest war in American military history in terms of percentage of combats killed.  Out of every 1,000 soldiers in Mexico some 110 died.

 

The next highest death rate would be that in the Civil War, with 65 out of every 1,000 participants.

 

The military and naval expenditures totaled $98 million.

 

Several important firsts are associated with the Mexican War:

Ø      The first successful offensive American War

Ø      The first major amphibious operation

Ø      The first occupation of an enemy capital

Ø      The first in which martial law was declared on foreign soil

Ø      The first in which West point graduates played a major role

Ø      The first reported by modern war correspondents.

 

It was also the first significant combat experience for a group of junior officers who later serve as leading generals during the Civil War: