The First Civil War, 1830-1842
Custom, & the Ports
Nat Turner, & Others
Mills & Planters
Alamán & Calhoun
Rancheros & Pilots
War of the South
Siege & Contagion
A Note on Then and Now
What They Called "Civil War"
Outcomes, and Vision
|The U.S. Indian "Frontier" represented well the second of the two boundary
conditions of the control system: the drawing of lines, so
that people could be expelled beyond, or confined within.
Back of any frontier process worked the force that criollo society exerted,
to take land or labor away from other people. Whites moved into Indian
country, and established farms where they lived year-round. This
produced fighting. The drawing of the property line, or the settlement
line, was then designed to make this process less costly in lives for the
whites. Non-whites would then be removed to the other side of the
line. The actual moving could cost many lives for those subjected
The removal and exclusion, which recurred in many times and places,
came to a head toward 1830 as a specific historical event. Marking
one turning-point in the real war, that between popular societies and the
control networks, it cleared the way for the narrower "Civil War"
of the 1830s, that between liberal and conservative insiders.
The parts of this event included:
This process of concentrating non-whites within
restricted boundaries was old. It went back at least as far as the
Spanish policy of reduction (reducción) -- gathering
Indians from their scattered settlements, into compact towns where they
could be supervised and converted. It took another form in any plantation-slavery
region where blacks had to have passes to move outside the owner's land.
As late as the 1890s, it would take the form of concentration camps in
Cuba: campos de reconcentración, where Spanish
forces rounded up large parts of the island population, to keep them from
Antonio López de Santa Anna, himself, demonstrated the
continuity of this process when, still a young officer, he was fighting
on the royalist side against the Mexican War of Independence. Part
of the time, he operated in his home province of Veracruz, trying to keep
Indian settlements in the backcountry from helping the rebels. Boasting
of his success (if such it was), he saw it in grand historical terms:
"In the year and seven months that I have been working with
these people, who were once unyielding enemies to all subordination, I
have succeeded in reducing them to a state of living settled together,
subjected completely to the society of more civilized people."
(. . . en el año y siete meses que llevo de estar trabajando
con esta gente, antes indómita y enemiga de la sujeción,
la haya podido reducir a que viva reunida en poblado y sujeta enteramente
a la sociedad de la más civilizada. . . )
A Planned Frontier
As of 1821, Mexico had staked out its independence from Spain, and
the United States had won its "2nd War of Independence" from Britain.
On the U.S. side, these conflicts presented politicians with a supposed
ethical conflict. Many people on the frontier, often followers of
Andrew Jackson, believed in expanding their opportunities by any
means available, including undeclared war against Indians or neighboring
powers. Respectable politicians -- the people who in Mexico were
called hombres de bien -- would pursue the same goals through formal,
legalistic measures. One was the young secretary of war under President
Monroe, John C. Calhoun. While privately censuring Jackson's high-handedness,
he bothered more about questions of personal authority than he did about
the methods of raid and confiscation. For his own part, he set about
constructing a line of frontier forts along the western border of Louisiana,
Arkansas, and Missouri. The land west of Louisiana was Texas, and
Mexican. That just west of Arkansas, the future Oklahoma, was set
aside as "Indian Territory." Everything north and west of that was
simply "unorganized" territory, with no legal programs in place for promoting
white settlement. The line of forts came to symbolize a formal division
between white and Indian areas. While some conservative politicians
thought that troublesome white settlers should stay east of the line, many
indigenous communities north of the Ohio River moved out beyond the line
to escape settler pressure. Jackson and Calhoun alike expected that
the remaining indigenous nations southeast of the Ohio would, somehow or
other, fall into this movement.
The conflict between white-settler energies and "respectable" moderation
gathered force at the end of the 1820s. Cherokees, Creeks, and Choctaws,
most of them, were not moving west. While they retained "tribal"
forms, they were becoming a complex of mestizo, indigenous, and black communities,
like many in the coastal areas of Mexico. Some individuals were planters,
and owned slaves. They insisted on regulating economic life within
their own communities, even when this conflicted with laws passed by white
state legislatures, like that of Georgia. White missionaries, operating
on a paternalistic basis like that of some missionaries in Jamaica, tried
to represent the Indian interest by appealing to federal courts, but a
favorable Supreme Court decision had no effect on the ground.
Congress decided the question, in a two-part move in 1830.
Implementation of the new law took most of the decade. The administration
in Washington, and settler forces in the southeastern states applied mounting
pressure through negotiation and intrusion. The Choctaws left Mississippi
by 1833, while the Chickasaws and the bulk of the remaining Cherokees left
the East in 1837 and 1838. In these moves, which produced little
actual fighting then, the U.S. Army acted as a police force to evict and
escort. A bureaucratic organization, with many anti-Jacksonians among
higher officers, it acted cautiously than settlers like, but did obey orders.
In any case, local harassment and the sufferings of the trek were also
a major military pressure -- just as had been, in California, the mission
living conditions that corroded the survival of indigenous families.
Aside from the thousands who died of disease or exposure, population was
hit hard by household disruption and infant mortality. Among the
Cherokees alone, the numbers lost would have made a major army in any North
American war of the period.
Conservative northeasterners in the Senate supported a resolution to restrict
land sales. The Senate, though, dodged the obvious questions of migration
and race, turning the debate into one on constitutional theory, of nationalism
versus states' rights. By this shift, the whole Senate accepted the
long-term, deeper strategy of Calhoun, that of translating real social
questions into forms of legal argument. Then the Senate confirmed
the evasion by refusing to vote on the resolution at all.
At the same time, both houses of Congress took up a bill offered by Jacksonians,
to force Indians east of the frontier line to move west. It would,
they said, end conflicts over Indian land in the east, aligning the nation
with world-wide "liberal" trends toward opening up resources for free white
society. Even one key opponent of the measure, Senator Frelinghuysen
of New Jersey, accepted the argument that Indians should give up land to
people who could use it more efficiently. While some modernization
philosophy or other served speakers on both sides, and in both houses,
it did not keep opponents from denouncing administration policy as cruel
and exploitative. When Congress enacted the law, it did so under
strong pressure from Jackson, and by a narrow vote in the House of Representatives.
The southern part of the State of Mexico, embracing the hills and valleys
back of Acapulco and the Costa Grande, would not be set off as a separate
state, called Guerrero, for another 20 years. During the closing
years of the war for Mexican independence, it stood out as the source of
indigenous and mulatto guerrilla fighters, with whom hombres de bien
had to reach some kind of understanding in order to consolidate a national
movement. Chief among these regional fighters was Vicente Guerrero.
In one way, he and Juan Álvarez resembled Andrew Jackson:
they were derided, for their crudity and poor education, by proper politicians
like Lucas Alamán and John Quincy Adams, and by the kinds of people,
in any society, who would scorn Indians for imitating white cultural traits.
If such a figure resisted advice, he was labeled stubborn. If he
accepted advice, he was considered weak and dependent.
In the early years of the Mexican independence, when the Republic was
led by a three-man executive, instead of a President, Guerrero was sometimes
included as the required radical or Indian in the triad. In 1827,
when the old guerrilla fighter Guadalupe Victoria was President, and the
conservative Nicolás Bravo was vice-president, leading a revolt
against Victoria, Guerrero took the field to suppress the revolt.
Guerrero became the populist candidate for President in 1828.
His opponent, Manuel Gómez Pedraza, had strong support among conservatives,
among the moderate liberals who called themselves imparciales, and
among the many generals who had fought on the royal side during the war
of independence. . Each state had one vote for President, cast by
the legislature. Guerrero lost, by 11 states to 9. Conservatives
like Alamán thought that direct election, with popular participation,
was disorderly and corrupt, but they were ready to insist that indirect
election expressed the will of the people.
But the forces friendly to Guerrero were strong in Congress, and Gómez
Pedraza had personal enemies dating to rivalries within the army.
One of these was Santa Anna, in Veracruz. In the capital, Lorenzo Zavala
led rebel soldiers seizing the garrison and ammunition depot known as the
Acordada. With that, rioting crowds turned out to sack the Parián,
the commercial center where many Spanish merchants had their stores.
Destruction was massive. Some people were killed. Frightened and under
pressure, the Congress recounted the votes, and declared Guerrero elected.
He took office in an atmosphere dominated by fear. His administration
had little of the social consensus that would vote the taxes needed just
to support the army and pay creditors. Its strongest military support
came from provincial leaders, like Santa Anna and Álvarez, who had
not demonstrated any reliable energy in the capital.
The mix of conservatives and moderate liberals, who together had defeated
Guerrero in the 1828 election, was still strong in Congress, and in "respectable"
public opinion. Stories circulated about the president's naive or
immoral behavior. Resistance grew against those cabinet members who had
supported the revolution in favor of Guerrero, and especially against the
liberal Lorenzo Zavala. But Zavala, at the same time, was busy conducting
a conspiratorial correspondence with Santa Anna, in which they derided
Guerrero's failings, and flattered each other.
The most dangerous among Guerrero's friends was his vice president,
Anastasio Bustamante, one of the most conservative of supposed liberals.
He had not only fought in the royal armies against independence, until
the last moment and the Plan de Iguala; he had also defended Iturbide as
emperor, long after the republican victory was certain. Now, while
Santa Anna was fighting a short-lived Spanish invasion force at Tampico,
Bustamante had command of a reserve army, stationed in the upcountry back
of Veracruz. In December of 1829, the commanders of this army went
into opposition against Guerrero. Most of the army units in the capital
joined the rebellion, and attacked the presidential palace at a time when
Guerrero was away. While the ladies of the capital watched the attack
from their balconies, a few people were killed, and the palace surrendered.
Santa Anna protested, briefly, that he would defend Guerrero's claim. Then,
seeing that almost all other Army leaders were lining up behind Bustamante,
he found excuses to back down. Guerrero, insisting then that
he had no desire to spill Mexican blood on his personal account, simply
folded camp and went home to Tixtla in the south.
The removal of Guerrero seemed to have been settled cleanly and efficiently,
like the voting in the U.S. Congress for the Indian Removal Act.
But victims, everywhere, refused to play dead quickly. The result in Mexico
was the next, bloody stage in the removal strategy: the War
of the South. The decisive act in the whole removal event would take
place as part of this War, on February 14, 1831.
Site Map | About
Grant Foreman, Indian Removal: the Emigration of the Five Civilized
Tribes of Indians (1953)
John Ehle, Trail of Tears : the Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation
Enrique González Pedrero, País de un solo hombre: el México
de Santa Anna, Vol. I La Ronda de los contrarios (1993)
Mary A. O'Callaghan, "An Indian Removal Policy in Spanish Louisiana," in
Greater America: Essays in Honor of Herbert Eugene Bolton (1945)
Francis Paul Prucha, The Sword of the Republic: the United States Army
on the Frontier, 1783-1846 (1969)
Russell Thornton, "Cherokee Population Losses during the Trail of Tears:
A New Perspective and a New Estimate," Ethnohistory (1984)
María Teresa Jarquín O., Congregaciones de pueblos en
el Estado de México (1994)
Copyright 1999 The Intermountain History Group, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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