The First Civil War, 1830-1842 

The Control Networks

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 
Yes, there really were "control circuits," by which some people regulated the circulation of goods, ideas, and other people.  These networks were not always the accidental outcomes of an innocent commerce.  Their key ingredients were not only the will of some people to build connections, but the knowledge that an improved system would tighten controls.  This knowledge and this will were conscious in the minds of individuals who operated independently of any simple party distinctions between liberal and conservative. 

The most visible form of any networking was transportation.  And the one individual who best understood how the reshaping of transportation would reshape control over people, was General Edmund P. Gaines, of the United States Army. 

As of 1830, the U.S. Army had less than 7,000 soldiers.  It had two big jobs:  to "defend" against Indians on the southern and western borders, and to defend against Europeans who might invade over the coast, from the east.  This tiny Army might be big enough for both, if it could move quickly from one challenge to another.  The main parts of the transportation system, though, were: 

  • dirt roads
  • coastal shipping
  • the Great Lakes
  • the Mississippi River with its tributaries, and
  • the Erie Canal connecting eastern water with the Mississippi system.
White settlement was beginning to move beyond easy reach by river.  Forts on the frontier, and any white settlers near them, were supported only by a few wagon roads.  Off in the East, the new-fangled railroads included only a few lines between neighboring cities.  Planters like Andrew Jackson, out in the Mississippi Valley, were often content with the rivers as a way to get their cotton or tobacco to market.  They did not want to invest more. 

But Gaines proposed a whole national system of military railroads. 

There already existed, throughout the country and extending into other parts of the world, elaborate systems of credit, distribution, militias and slave patrols, legal enforcement, and religious agitation.  If anything, these systems were more fully worked out than the technology of transportation.  Proposals like Gaines's, or more practical proposals to build short local lines, were efforts to bring the physical network up to the kinds of control for which many people were reaching. 

Even without the central planning that Gaines urged, such a system grew up anyway, over the years, under the control of corporations that began as local business collectives, then emerged on a national level in the 1850s as private, trans-regional management systems.  The main outlines converged into much the form that Gaines had envisaged.  Banks and other institutions underwent parallel transformations.  By the 1870s, the networked movement of troops, messages, and funds was enabling national managers to exert a rapidly shifting control over indigenous forces on the frontier and worker unrest in Eastern cities.  This unrest was the new form of "European invasion." 

The transportation system, either in its earlier waterway version, or its later rail elaboration, was only the physical channel for a whole series of actions and institutions.

The actions consisted of all the military and police measures used either to:

The institutions included businesses, haciendas, and plantations, plus the political arrangements for allowing some lesser people up into participation.  Even Jacksonian Democrats, who distrusted central planning, were part of the evolving network.   Proprietors of many kinds were discovering that they could work together, competing in "friendly" ways for the resources of the world, while making sure that outsiders were only the servants of the process.  The people involved on the system side included: These people did not worry much about whether what they were doing was "capitalist" or "pre-capitalist."  The sellers of cotton might damn the mill-owners who bought cotton, and call them "grasping capitalists," but the two types depended on each other.

Balancing Things: Consensus and City Rivalries

These owners and managers depended also on two "boundary conditions" for the working of the system: There was no part of the American continent where this double boundary condition did not prevail.  In every part, many people in the "consensus sector" saw themselves as the civilized, white "race."  They could then permit some "white" people from the "exclusion sector" to cross the line, without reducing much the pool of available poor.

The Anglo regions of the continent kept much more rigid and formal the line between exclusion and consensus.  This was mostly a matter of race.  In the United States, and eventually in Canada, this wall around the consensus sector made it easy for a two-party system to develop, seeming to guarantee peace.

In Mexico and Central America, on the other hand, there was real leakage across the boundary, even while convention divided people between "civilized" and "uncivilized" (de razón and sin razón).  It was easier for some leaders there to participate in the consensus sector at the same time that they kept up followings among the excluded.  Of course, these same leaders could easily be attacked as traitors to civilization.  Wars to eliminate them from the system (such as the War of the South, in Mexico) overlapped with "Civil War" within the consensus sector.

When "Civil War" came to a head in Mexico in 1832-1835, it was a military confrontation between two elite groups who had rival styles for exerting discipline over the poor:

In most situations, though, conservative and liberal elements worked together as parts of the broad system of control.

As the networks evolved, focal points emerged in certain commercial cities:  Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Charleston, within the United States; Mexico City, Veracruz, Guadalajara, and Zacatecas, within Mexico; Montreal and Toronto, in Canada; Guatemala, San Salvador, San José, and an array of smaller places in Central America.  Each of these, from the point of view of "liberal" competition, could look like a bastion of mercantile conservatism, to be attacked and broken down. But each could also act as a center for "liberal" movements directed against its "conservative" rivals.   The rivalry among commercial centers spilled over into politics, and into military action.  It was the vehicle for much of the actual play of signals through the whole criollo network.  Since cities, like politicians, could shift between conservative and liberal identities, their interaction was one more way that conservative and liberal pressures were balanced off against each other, throughout the system.

Grand Strategy and the Gaines Notion

Gaines's proposal, to settlers and office-holders alike, was simply visionary.  They understood that the working of the system depended on the force exerted by settlers pushing against indigenous peoples.  He was more inclined toward the idea of a system that would minimize the use of force, like the balancing act of an ideal competitive market, or the mental workings of a brilliant strategist.  As early as 1827, he was developing a whiggish, futuristic mind-set, in which the glorious possibilities of "steam" worked closely with a concern for rapid communications to the western frontier -- and with notions about educating Indian children to be members of civilized U.S. society.  The application of steam to land transport then gave him a way to organize his vision into a tighter whole.  By 1838 he was laying out, with maps and rhetoric, a plan for a system of military railroads that would permit the rapid movement of troops, not only between St. Louis and the frontier, but between Atlantic coastal forts and western frontier forts.

With such a system, the small dispersed army units could always concentrate superior forces against Indian raiders.  Without it, he said, the U.S. population would be vulnerable to any European forces that might concentrate a surprise attack on some Atlantic port.  In the absence of the railroad, the whites would be pushed toward the Rocky Mountains.  With steam power, they could achieve not only an almost magical concentration of forces, but could project influence overseas, and eventually send back to Africa the blacks whose presence seemed a constant threat to the country.

His proposal reflected the vulnerability of a society that, at that time, had no great technical advantages over the indigenous peoples, except in its medical immunities and in the manufactures by which whites provided quantities of arms and powder to their soldiers.  The Indians had much the same arms, although they had to keep up relations with white traders in order to be sure of a regular supply.  Because traders competed among themselves to meet this demand, in spite of legal prohibitions, Indian military techniques differed from white mostly in degree of complexity, or in the means of production used to keep up supplies, not in weapons system or underlying concept.  Because there did not yet exist any absolute military distinction between the civilized and the indigenous, Gaines could visualize a defeat of Americans by Europeans, quite similar to the pressure that whites were exerting against Indians.

Gaines's idea was an abstraction, as were all the long-range plans for criollo victory.  Railroad construction had barely begun then in the East, and "steam power" was a phrase to conjure with.  There were still no railroads in Mexico, and none in the western U.S.  In the 1830s it was in Canada, and that only for a short distance out from Montreal, that government troops used a rail line to deploy against rebels.

To Gaines in the 1830s, steam was the kind of wonder that atomic power would be in 1945, before much blame attached to its developers. Wondrous new potential lay, not for 1835 in some new source of explosive power, but in the rapid transport of weapons, supplies, and soldiers.  That potential would be fully realized only in the 1860s and 1870s.

Yet there was a silent practicality in Gaines's thought. The infrastructure of the country was already moving in his direction in the 1830s and 1840s.  He saw, far more clearly than most people then, the emerging link between industrial mobilization and military mobilization.  No matter that canal and early railroad construction was only in progress, and navies still relied on sail for ocean voyages.  The transportation network was growing in its ability to move people and goods, each year a little more efficiently, a little deeper into the countryside.  The logistic potential of the economy was improving faster than "realistic" leaders yet appreciated.


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