A Note on Then and Now
What They Called "Civil War"
V. Gómez Farías
Wm. Lyon Mackenzie
A. L. de Santa Anna
Puebla & Charleston
Guanajuato & Bravo
Loot & development
Texas & Florida
Guatemala & Carrera
The Huasteca, & North
The Costa Grande
Outcomes, and Vision
|Sinbad the Sailor.
Maybe that was it: one of the first signs to Levi Woodbury that he could combine the life of the mind with ventures into a wide and open world. It was one of the first stories he read as a boy, before going on to a lifetime of education and prudence -- a life of speaking for those people, in his family and his party and his country, who took greater risks than he did.
Like most liberals, he worried little about people outside his own kind. But his own he did defend, against old authority as well as against outside resistance.
His life took him through a series of measured stages:
While the Senate debate touched off some turgid speeches on constitutional questions, it presented to Woodbury a personal challenge that was both intellectual and political. A New England Democrat, he needed to justify himself as a loyal Jacksonian, yet do this in terms that would be acceptable to the commercial, even Puritanical outlook of his own region. He did this by drawing on his information about developments in other parts of the world.
Woodbury urged easy land sales as a "liberal" measure. Countries as far as Mexico and Persia, Canada and South Africa and Australia, were offering land on "liberal" terms to settlers, and adopting more "liberal" legal systems in order to encourage settlement. Liberal terms in Texas might divert population in that direction. Since the United States was part of the same network of nations, it would have to meet the competition in order to keep up its own social development. Woodbury himself was part of an international market-place of ideas, and one of those ideas was a consciousness of this world-wide land market.
In both Mexico and the United States, the attraction of land encouraged
some people to form new constituencies that were loyal, less to either
nation, than to the land-grant process itself, and thus to liberal "class"
ideology across national lines. Woodbury, that spokesman for liberalism
in the U.S Senate, was a disciplined, successful lawyer, working strictly
within the political system. But he had younger cousins who were
less successful, and who could pester him for help. They were part
of the larger population that was being extruded from rural New England,
some going to cities or into political machines, some going west.
Two of Woodbury's poor relations, separately, went off adventuring in Texas
land. One had become a Mexican citizen in the 1820s, offering himself
as a surgeon in the Mexican Army, wangling enormous land-grants in Texas,
and even rights to explore for coal mines. Never carrying through
on his grandiose claims, he may have been more important to the world as
Sinbad the Surgeon in the thinking of his senator cousin.
In his new position, Woodbury proceeded to lay out systematic regulations to govern the relations between Treasury and the deposit banks -- technical matters, mostly, designed to carry out some of the same coordinating functions that the BUS had once fulfilled. With some variation from administration to administration, this approach became the basis for relations between government and banking for over twenty years: more regulation than envisioned in liberal theory, but less control than conservatives would have accepted.
Woodbury was implementing the moderate idea that responsible administration
could create a liberal/conservative consensus for the whole society. In
one way, though, even this quiet administration affected non-criollo society.
As secretary, and as the kind of public servant who informed himself carefully
about conditions that affected his charge, he made one great voyage through
an area that made a great difference to the position of the United States
in international money flows: not any foreign country, but
simply and extensively the cotton South. As a good administrator,
he provided an informative report on the cotton economy. As a good
Jacksonian, he said nothing about the moral questions of slavery.
Shortly after the closing-down of the 2nd Seminole War, the suppression of two popular movements brought out the unity of conflict over the whole area around North America. It also forced Woodbury to make one final decision about where he stood on the question of imposed consensus versus honest social conflict.
1844 was the year of La Escalera: the uncovering of a wide conspiracy among slaves and free blacks in Cuba, supposedly encouraged by the rogue abolitionist who was Britain's consul in Havana. Whether or not the conspirators had plans for armed action in that particular year, Spanish authorities rooted them out by relentless interrogations, tortures, and executions. Among the people on the scene who spread the accusation were U.S. agents, whose reports fed into the further accusation that John C. Calhoun, then secretary of state, made against the British: their meddling in places like Texas would threaten the security of slavery in the United States itself.In public opinion, there was no way to keep separate the use of force against northern whites from the possibility that slaveowners might call for force against slaves.
1844 was also the year that Thomas Dorr was jailed in Rhode Island, for having led a rebellion two years earlier. Urban and poor whites, disfranchised by property requirements in the state's old colonial government, had created their own militia and constitution, which would give the vote to all white men. Conservatives reacted, suppressed the rival government, and imprisoned Dorr. They also asked President John Tyler to provide federal force. Tyler backed out of actually sending troops, but said that he would if needed. In the aftermath, people sympathetic to the rebels went all the way to the Supreme Court with this question of the conservative use of force.
The Court, in a majority decision written by Chief Justice Taney, upheld the conservatives.
The minority dissent, by Woodbury, supported the pro-rebel complaint.
The liberal/conservative compromise was shaky, even in the decisions made by some of its most faithful servants.
Copyright 1999 The Intermountain History Group, email@example.com.
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