Administrations of Harrison and Tyler, 1841-1845
The new President was a Virginian by birth, and the adopted son of Robert Morris, the financier of the Revolution. He was a graduate of Hampden-Sidney College, and afterward a student of medicine. Attracted by the military life, he entered the army of St. Clair; was rapidly promoted; became lieutenant governor and then governor of Indian Territory, which office he filled with great ability. His military career in the Northwest has already been narrated. He was inaugurated President on the 4th of March, 1841, and began his duties by issuing a call for a special session of Congress to consider "sundry important matters connected with the finances of the country." An able cabinet was organized, at the head of which was Daniel Webster as secretary of state. Everything promised well for the new Whig administration; but before Congress could convene, the venerable president, bending under the weight of sixty-eight years, fell sick, and died just one month after his inauguration. It was the first time that such a calamity had befallen the American people. Profound and universal grief was manifested at the sad event. On the 6th of April Mr. Tyler took the oath of office, and became President of the United States.
He was a statesman of considerable distinction; a native of Virginia; a graduate of William and Mary College. At an early age he left the profession of law to enter public life; was chosen a member of Congress; and in 1825 was elected governor of Virginia. From that position he was sent to the Senate of the United States; and now at the age of fifty-one was called to the presidency. He had been put upon the ticket with General Harrison through motives of expediency; for although a Whig in political principles, he had been a Democrat, and was not in fully sympathy with the party that elected him.
The special session of Congress continued from May till September. One of the first measures proposed and carried was the repeal of the independent treasury bill. A general bankrupt law was then brought forward and passed, by which a great number of insolvent business men were relieved from the disabilities of debt. The next measure--a favorite scheme of the Whigs--was the rechartering of the Bank of the United States. The old charter had expired in 1836; but the bank had continued in operation under the authority of the State of Pennsylvania. Now a bill to recharter was brought forward and passed. The President interposed his veto. Again the bill was presented, in a modified form, and received the assent of both Houses, only to be rejected by the executive. By this action a final rupture was prouced between the President and the party which had elected him. The indignant Whigs, baffled by want of a two-thirds majority in Congress, turned upon him with storms of invective. All the members of the cabinet except Mr. Webster resigned; and he retained his place only because of a pending boundary treaty with Great Britain.
From the time of the treaty of 1783 the limit of the country on the northeast had been a matter of controversy. Sometimes the difficulty grew serious and portended war. Lord Ashburton on the part of Great Britain, and Mr. Webster on the part of the United States, were called upon to settle the dispute. They performed their work in a manner honorable to both nations; the present boundary was fixed; and on the 20th of August, 1842, the treaty was approved by the Senate.
In the next year the country was vexed with a domestic trouble. For nearly two centuries the government of Rhode Island had been administered under a charter granted by Charles II. By the terms of that ancient instrument the right of suffrage was restricted to those who held a certain amount of property. There were other clauses repugnant to the spirit of republicanism; and a proposition was made to change the constitution of the State. On that issue the people of Rhode Island were nearly unanimous; but in respect to the manner of abrogating the old charter there was a serious division. One faction, call the "law and order party," proceeding in accordance with the former constitution, chose Samuel W. King as governor. The other faction, called the "suffrage party," acting in an irregular way, elected Thomas W. Dorr. In May of 1842 both parties met and organized their rival governments.
The "law and order party" now undertook to suppress the faction of Dorr. The latter resisted and made an attempt to capture the State arsenal. But the militia, under direction of King's officers, drove the assailants away. A month later the adherents of Dorr again appeared in arms, but were dispersed by the troops of the United States. Dorr fled from Rhose Island; returned soon afterward, was caught, tried for treason, convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment for life. He was then offered pardon on the condition of taking an oath of allegiance. This he stubbornly refused to do; and in June of 1845 obtained his liberty without conditions.
About the same time a distrubance occurred in New York. Until the year 1840 the descendants of Van Rensselaer, one of the old Dutch patroons of New Netherland, had held a claim on certain lands in the counties of Rensselaer, Columbia, and Delaware. In liquidation of this claim they had continued to receive from the farmers certainn trifling rents. At last the farmers grew tired of the payment, and rebelled. From 1840 until 1844 the question was frequently discussed in the New York legislature; but no satisfactory settlement was reached. In the latter year the anti-rent party became so bold as to coat with tar and feathers those of their fellow-tenants who made the payments. Officers were sent to apprehend the rioters; and them they killed. Time and again the authorities of the State were invoked to quell the disturbers. The question in dispute was finally settled in favor of the farmers.
Of a different sort was the difficulty with the Mormons, who now began to play a part in the history of the country. Under the leadership of their prophet, Joseph Smith, they made their first important settlement in Jackson county, Missouri. Here their numbers increased to fully fifteen hundred; and they began to say that the great West was to be their inheritance. Not liking their neighbors or their practices, the people of Missouri determined to be rid of them. As soon as opportunity offered the militia was called out, and the Mormns were obliged to leave the State. In the spring of 1839 they crossed the Mississippi into Illinois, and on a high bluff overlooking the river laid out a city which they called Nauvoo, meaning the Beautiful. Here they built a splendid temple. Other Mormons from different parts of the Union and from Europe came to join the community, until the number was swelled to ten thousand. Again popular suspicion was aroused against them. Under the administration of Smith, laws were enacted contrary to the statutes of Illinois. The people charged the Mormons with the commission of certain thefts and murders; and it was believed that the courts in the neighborhood of Nauvoo would be powerless to convict the criminals.
In the midst of much excitement Smith and his brother were arrested, taken to Carthage, and lodged in jail. On the 27th of June, 1844, a mob gathered, broke open the jail doors, and killed the prisoners. During the rest of the summer there were many scenes of violence. In 1845 the charter of Nauvoo was annulled by the legislature of Illinois. Most of the Mormons gave up in despair and resolved to exile themselves beyond the limits of civilization. In 1846 they began their march to the far West. In September Nauvoo was cannonaded for three days, and the remnant of its inhabitants driven to join their companions at Council Bluffs. Thence they dragged themselves wearily westward; crossed the Rocky Mountains; reached the basin of the Great Salt Lake; and founded Utah Territory.
Meanwhile, a great agitation had arisen in the country in regard to the republic of Texas. From 1821 to 1836 this vast territory, lying between Louisiana and Mexico, had been a province of the latter country. For a long time it had been the policy of Spain and Mexico to keep Texas uninhabited, in order that the vigorous race of Americans might not encroach on the Mexican borders. At last, however, a large land grant was made to Moses Austin, of Connecticut, on condition that he would settle three hundred American families within the limits of his domain. Afterward the grant was confirmed to his son Stephen, with the privilege of establishing five hundred additional families of immigrants. Thus the foundation of Texas was laid by people who were of the English race.
Owing to the oppressive policy adopted by Mexico, the Texans, in the year 1835, raised the standard of rebellion. Many adventurers and some heroes from the United States flocked to their aid. In the first battle, fought at Gonzales, a thousand Mexicans were defeated by a Texan force numbering five hundred. On the 6th of March, 1836, a Texan fort, called the Alamo, was surrounded by a Mexican army of several thousand, commanded by President Santa Anna. The feeble garrison was overpowered and massacred under circumstances of great atrocity. The daring David Crockett, an ex-congressman of Tennessee, and a famous hunter, was one of the victims of the butchery. In the next month was fought the decisive battle of San Jocinto, which gave to Texas her freedom. The independence of the new State was acknowledged by the United States, Great Britain, and France.
As soon as the people of Texas had thrown off the Mexican yoke they asked to be admitted into the Union. At first the proposition was declined by President Van Buren, who feared a war with Mexico. In the last year of Tyler's administration the question of annexation was again agitated. The population of Texas had increased to more than two hundred thousand souls. The territory embraced an area of two hundred and thirty-seven thousand square miles--a domain more than five times as large as the State of Pennsylvania. It was like annexing an empire. The proposition to admit Texas into the Union was the great question on which the people divided in the presidential election of 1844. The annexation was favored by the Democrats and opposed by the Whigs. The ground of Whig opposition was the fact that Texas would become a slave State and the party opposed the extension of slavery. James K. Polk, of Tennessee, was put forward as the Democratic candidate, while the Whigs chose their favorite leader, Henry Clay. The former was elected, and the hope of the latter to reach the presidency was forever eclipsed. For Vice-President, George M. Dallas, of Pennsylvania, was chosen.
The convention by which Mr. Polk was nominated was held at Baltimore. On the 29th of May, 1844, the news of the nomination was sent to Washington by the magnetic telegraph. It was the first dispatch ever so transmitted; and the event makrs an era in the history of civilization. The inventor of the telegraph, which was proved so great a blessing to mankind, was Professor Samuel F. B. Morse, of Massachusetts. The magnetic principle on which the invention depends had been known since 1774; but Professor Morse was the first to apply that principle for the benefit of men. He began his experiments in 1832; and five years afterward succeeded in obtaining a patent on his invention. Then followed another long delay; and it was not until the last day of the session in 1843 that he procured from Congress an appropriation of thirty thousand dollars. With that appropriation was constructed between Baltimore and Washington the first telegraphic line in the world. Perhaps no other invention has exercised amore beneficient influence on the welfare and happiness of the human race.
When Congress convened in December of 1844, the proposition to admit Texas into the Union was formally brought forward. During the winter the question was frequently debated; and on the 1st of March--only three days before Tyler's retirement from the presidency--the bill of annexation was adopted. The President immediately gave his assent; and the Lone Star took its place in the constellation of the States. On the day before the inauguration of Mr. Polk bills for the admission of Florida and Iowa were also signed; but the latter State--the twenty-ninth member of the American Union--was not formally admitted until the following year.
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