The First Civil War, 1830-1842 

The Silver-Opium Connection

Real War 
   Grounded Networks 
      The Plains   
      Custom, & the Ports    
      Nat Turner, & Others   
      The Islands   
      The Southern Slopes   
      The Mission Coasts  
  Control Networks 
      Mills & Planters  
      Silver & opium  
      Alamán & Calhoun  
      Rancheros & Pilots  
      The War of the South  
      Siege & Contagion 
A Note on Then and Now 
What They Called "Civil War"  
   Liberal Projects 
   Conservative Demagogues 
   Fight Scenes  
  Grounded Reaction 
Outcomes, and Vision 
Many of the moneyed men of the 1830s understood the trade connections that flowed from one part of the world to another, tying them together.  Few probably understood it all, or bothered to worry about the moral implications of being a "network member." In any human sense, any two competing merchants had hardly more "global vision" of the system than did two peasant villages quarreling over property lines.  But the system was there. 

The core of this system was the transformation of slave-produced raw cotton into fine consumer goods for the middle and upper classes of the West.  After all, the silver and furs sent direct to China did not pay for all of the fine goods imported from China.  And only a small part of the Chinese silks went to the wives of Southern slaveowners -- and none to the slaves. 

Simple two-way trade, like the exchange of tools from New England for furs from northern Mexico,  was not enough to produce a world-wide pattern.  We can visualize that pattern, though, on a schematic map  that leaves out most of the simple trades:


For the whole to work, payments had to be financed by a banking network.  At a sophisticated level, the flow of goods around the circle in one direction was financed by a reverse flow of bank paper in the opposite direction -- payment orders, such as checks, that enabled people to participate in the flow without giving a thought to all the specific products that made it possible.

In the less sophisticated parts of the United States, and notably in the slave South and the new West, banks depended for their solidity on silver brought in from Latin America.  This silver was paid for by cloth and other manufactures imported from the "developed" areas of the North Atlantic.  In its turn, it became the base on which planters and farmers in the United States could leverage themselves up to participation in the world economy.

Two of the products that kept the system linked together were thus:

The existence of the network as such, with many of its connections "remote," made it easy for middle-class consumers in the West to ignore what they were involved in.

One aspect of the whole network was the effort by people to accept those parts of European culture that they wanted for their own lives, and to do this at their own pace, under their own control.  Another aspect was the
international flow of products as remote from each other as Mexican silver and Chinese silk.  At every point around this network, some group was trying to appropriate as much as it could of the flow, and competing groups often came into physical conflict.  Santa Anna's attack on Zacatecas in 1835 was an assertion of authority by his sector of Mexican society, and one of many efforts to tap the flow through the international network.  This competition did not stop with his victory, nor with that of the Texans the following year.  It continued over the following decade, and was a driving force in the ways many people tried to profit from zones of exchange, throughout the world.

What made this pattern into a "system," on one side of the ongoing Real War, was not the fact of long-distance trade.  That had long existed.  Most people, in most communities of the world, were eager to trade with the rest of the world if they could do it on terms acceptable to themselves.  Rather, the system was the set of institutions that bankers and hacendados and mine-owners used to impose terms on the network, from the top down. These institutions amounted to a fundamental strategy.

In relation to that strategy, the national armies of the period were something more than the buttons on the uniforms of a few vain officers  They were an instrument for moving people from one situation to another, and a place for teaching people to accept discipline in large groups.



Site Map | About

Copyright 1999 The Intermountain History Group, All rights reserved.