I’ve taken a bit of a break from this blog, I think I overwhelmed myself for awhile. Going forward, I’m going to try for 1-2 updates a week rather than daily. But anyway, it’s nearly Christmas, so there’s two things I wanted to post.
First if anyone remembers the Tonquin, which launched back on September 8th. It’s now been over two and a half months of sailing south to go west, but December 25th will mark the day that the Tonquin clears the Cape of Good Hope and begins the trip back north. Next stop: Hawaii. In February.
Second is Christmas itself in 1810. I’ve already mentioned that the US has a very odd and conflicted attitude towards England. I’ve also mentioned that holidays are frequently political things in the early United States. So what about Christmas? The simple fact of the matter is that it’s considered to be a British holiday. It’s not a federal holiday, that won’t happen until 1870. It’s also in most of the US not a state, city, county, or municipal holiday. Children go to school. People go to work. Things get done. That’s not to say that no one celebrated Christmas in any form, but that the holiday that many of us think of as a hallmark of the year didn’t exist in anything even close to its modern form just two hundred years ago.
And with that we likely wrap up 1810 here on 200 Years Later. 2011 will see America inching close to war with England, and Tecumseh’s War breaking out.
This feels like a good way to get the blog back up and running, talking about the holiday that just passed. And maybe a little about holidays in general. Thanksgiving in its modern incarnation, as an annual holiday celebrated in late November, dates back to the Civil War era as Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November starting in 1863. It was in the 1940s that it was changed to the fourth Thursday in November.
However, as any school child knows, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated not in 1863, but by the Pilgrims. In the early days of the colonies and then country the concept of Thanksgiving was a more specific one. A colony, state, or the nation as a whole was asked to specifically stop and give thanks for a chosen event. Between the Declaration of Independence and 1810 there have been five Thanksgivings:
- 1777: Proclaimed by General George Washington in thanksgiving of the American victory at Saratoga
- 1789: Proclaimed by President George Washington in thanksgiving of the new Constitution and nation.
- 1795: Proclaimed by Washington
- 1798: Proclaimed by John Adams
- 1799: Proclaimed by Adams
And that’s it. Since the turn of the 19th Century there has not been a declared national day of Thanksgiving in the United States. In a way the day feels more like the modern National Day of Prayer, except the latter is actually proclaimed on an annual basis, but by tradition rather than being an officially recognized American holiday.
In general holidays were strange things in the early United States, as they were very partisan affairs. Really, everything was becoming highly partisan, so it should be no surprise that holidays followed suit. The Federalists would celebrate Washington’s Birthday. The DRs, wanting to hold onto the revolutionary spirit and remind the Federalists what the country was founded for, would celebrate the Fourth of July. It would almost be as though in modern politics if only Republicans celebrated Lincoln’s birthday and only Democrats were willing to spend dimes. That seems so oddly petty, and yet that level of pettiness existed within the American political structure as the party system slowly evolved out of more general mish-mash that existed for the first few presidential terms.
And you thought that modern politics was a charged partisan atmosphere.
This blog is going to go dark for about two weeks as I’m heading off to the wedding of some dear friends, a wedding that will be on a cruise ship sailing around Central America, so I’ll have other things on my mind than the year 1810. At least I hope to hell I will. We’ll be leaving out of New Orleans, so I thought what better way to close out than looking at the Creole city in the early 1800s.
The first step to understanding New Orleans is its geographic location. It’s unique not just in the United States but almost the world to be situated at the mouth of such a massive and navigable river, really the closest thing that North America had to an interstate highway until the Eisenhower administration. The Mississippi has long been the prize of North America, and was a major trading route for the British, Spanish, French, and fledgling America. Thus, whomever controlled New Orleans controlled a lot of the movement of goods in the new world. This was understood before America became a nation, in the War of 1812, and into the Civil War.
The second step is to understand the difference between Anglo-American slavery and Franco-Spanish slavery. As New Orleans was traded back and forth between the Spanish and the French, their slightly less brutal methods of enslaving Africans were common in the city and surrounding areas. It looked a little more like the dying institution of white slavery in the US: Indentured Servitude. It was much easier for slaves to earn or buy their freedom under their French and Spanish masters, so the population of New Orleans was upwards of 20% freed black residents when the US took control of the city with the Louisiana Purchase.
And what a population it is. I haven’t seen the city listed on the 1810 census, but that’s apparently because the lists I’ve found haven’t included territorial cities (New Orleans being currently the capital city of the Orleans Territory). The population of New Orleans in 1810 is estimated at around 25,000 people, making it either the 5th or 6th largest city under United States control depending on the source of those numbers. This is a third of the entire population of what was the land of the Louisiana Purchase, with the only other city of note being the capital of the Louisiana Territory: St. Louis. It’s the only city of any note in what is currently being called the West, and while the United States was more than happy to double in size, it was the real prize of the purchase.
But in many ways it’s not quite American. The rest of the United States came from largely English colonies, and New Orleans marks the first major city of Spanish or French origins in the New World that the nation has subsumed in its quest westward to the Pacific. But it’s an essential city to the growth of America both economically and demographically. By 1840 it will be the third largest city in the country, just narrowly edged out by the other shipping powerhouse: Baltimore, and will remain one of the ten largest cities until 1880. It will see important battles in two wars (though one technically after the war ended).
Occurs to me that I should have posted this first. Oh well. This is the currently convened Congress in 1810, which will have one more session running December 3-March 3.
So the changes from the 11th to the 12th Congress.
Federalist gains: None.
Federalist House losses: 1 seat in Maine (Mass.), 4 seats in New Hampshire, 3 seats in New York, 1 seat in North Carolina.
Federalist Senate losses: 1 seat in Massachusetts
Massachusetts will no longer have the Speaker of the House as part of its Congressional delegation, as that man is Joseph Bradley Varnum, who happens to be the DR senate pick-up from that state. Instead there’ll be the unprecedented (before or after) election of a freshman congressman from Kentucky who during this 11th Congress is serving in the Senate: Henry Clay.
Here’s something I’ve been putting together with Excel: a proportional map of the 12th Congress. Each square on the map represents on seat. Federalists are in orange, Democrat-Republicans are in green. On the right is the makeup of the Senate. First the map, then a few notes:
Note one: District placement. I’ve made no attempt to correlate the location of the district with the map representation with one exception. The four Massachusetts districts that have been apportioned to the future state of Maine are separated out.
Note two: Plural districts. Both New York and Pennsylvania have a few districts that are represented by multiple congressmen, known as plural districts. This was done to provide the proper representation for counties that would otherwise be divided into multiple districts.
Note three: At-large districts. Only Ohio and Delaware are small enough at this point in time to be represented by only a single member in the House. However, there are also four states that elected all their house members state-wide. The most unusual of these is New Hampshire, the only at-large state represented by both parties. The other at-large states have all sent single-party delegations to the House.
Note four: In case it isn’t clear, OT at the southwest corner of the map is the Orleans Territory.
I’m still planning on doing a breakdown of who won the 1810 midterm elections, but after yesterday’s election I suspect there’s a lot of people in this country who could need a drink. And by some coincidence I stumbled across some alcohol facts in Empire of Liberty last night.
America in the early 1800s loves to drink. In fact, we’re looking at the period in American history that they consume the most liquor, and where whiskey consumption isn’t relegated just to adults, but to children and even babies. In 1810 there are roughly 10,000 distilleries producing hard alcohol in the country, mostly in the grain producing parts of the nation. This is largely because there’s a hell of a lot more profit to be made from spirits than there is from the grain itself. Keep in mind this is a country of about 7 million people, which means on distillery per every 700 residents of the country.
1820 will mark the highest per capita liquor consumption that America will ever hit. 5 gallons per every man, woman, and child in the country. Today that number is about 2.1 gallons. But keep in mind that there are a lot of 0 gallons being added in to that average. Slaves are counted as part of the per capita consumption but have little access to alcohol, so if you remove the slave population from the total population of the United States in 1820 the number is closer to 6 gallons. Temperance organizations abounded, even if they wouldn’t get their goal of prohibition until the 1920s. And yes with all of these people NOT drinking, plenty of people were. And drinking a lot.
Just like a lot of people are probably tempted to do this morning.
As today is election day for a rather contentious midterm election, I thought it might be nice to look at election day in 1810. Except…there wasn’t one. Most Americans know the odd election day we have: the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. That date was established by law in the 1840s. Before then, the closest thing there was to a set election day was the declaration that states had to select their electors in the 34 days leading up to the meeting of the Electoral College. Notice the choice of word “select”. In the most recent 1808 presidential election, seven states had their electors chosen not by popular vote but by the state legislature, a practice that would continue in South Carolina until after the Civil War.
Even then, the 34-day window methodology applied only to presidential elections. For the legislature it was only essential for states to work out who would be representing them before the 12th Congress was seated, which wouldn’t be until March 4, 1811. Thus the elections actually happened over a range of dates between April and August, meaning that by the first Tuesday after the first Monday in 1810, the entire 12th Congress’s House of Representatives was decided upon. Again, this is a period before the 17th Amendment, so only the House is a directly elected body.
So what will the new Congress look like? It’s heavily controlled by the Democrat-Republicans, who will be expanding their 92-50 seat advantage in the 11th Congress to a 107-36 seat advantage. The Senate will be split 27-7 in favor of the party of Jefferson. It’s the beginning of the end for the Federalists, an odd sort of party that never saw itself as a party, and that was entirely the problem. They were the administration, they had the natural right to govern the United States. So they didn’t engage in anything like partisan activity until it was far too late and the ground swell was already in favor of the opposition being led by Jefferson and Madison.
The politics of the time were no less contentious than today, even with one party on the verge of dying out completely. Anything and everything was an excuse for political exercise. Papers were typically owned by a party and openly used as a mouthpiece and even a source of lies and defamation against opponents. Funerals would be turned into political rallies. And, of course, there was dueling. Duels were conducted over political matters, because politics were equated to character, so any differences in political opinion were seen as a direct attack on character. While the Burr-Hamilton affair is today the most popular, it was far from the only time that men of honor came to exchange gunshots over their political differences.
And yet, when Jefferson took office, there was a peaceful transition of power. For all of the animus between the Democrat-Republicans and the dying Federalists, the nation did not rip itself apart when the balance of power tipped. And really, that precedent is everything for this country, and what has made it such a beacon over the years. Even with what we view as contentious politics today (when was the last time Boehner and Pelosi aimed pistols at each other?) any change in power in the Congress that happens today will happen peacefully. As always, the question will be “what then?” but there will be no fear of uprising because of the results of today.
So go out and vote. Because you get to.
I was all set to write about Halloween, since it’s the last weekday before the holiday. But you know what? The early 1800s look to be a bit of a hole in the history of Halloween in the United States. On one side of the hole are the Puritans disapproving of the holiday as being pagan and associated with demon worship in the early days of the Colonies. On the other side of the hole are the Irish fleeing the potato famine, and bring with them their Halloween traditions. Things that are and are not yet part of Halloween:
Trick-or-Treating. Oddly, the idea of dressing up in costumes and going around door to door asking for goodies is more of a Christmas tradition dating back to the middle ages. This is what “wassailing” is in the classic song “Here We Come A-Wassailing”. People would dress up and spread holiday cheer. And then they wouldn’t leave until given a bit of holiday cheer back, in the form of an alcoholic spirit or some baked goods. Perhaps some figgy pudding. There was a door-to-door tradition in late autumn, but that was souling, when beggers would go around asking for money on All Saints Day (Nov 1) with the promise of praying for a family’s dead on All Souls Day (Nov 2). The modern incarnation of Trick-or-Treating started as recently as World War Two.
Costumes. While some would say these date back to the pagan origins of the holidays (as with most good modern holidays, they had a pagan origin that was co-opted by the Church), the earliest actual evidence of costumes being associated with All Hallows’ Eve date back only about a century to the early 1900s.
Jack O’Lanterns. These started in the 1200s amazingly enough. In the old country they were carved out of turnips, though in the new world massive gourds were found to be far superior. In part because they were far larger. It was generically a harvest-time tradition that slowly got associated with the nearby Halloween festivities, not being fully associated until after the Civil War.
It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. 1966.
So what was Halloween in 1810? It was largely a southern festival, as it was largely a harvest festival, much as it had been when originally celebrated as Samhain by the ancient Celts. Though there is recognition of the two holy days that are to follow, meant to honor the saints first then all beloved dead. Mostly the harvest related activities are included, such as carving pumpkins and apple bobbing, though these are thought as late fall traditions, not specifically Halloween traditions. Bonfires are popular, first to ward off against the impending darkness as night becomes longer than day…and also because it’s just nice to be warm on a cold night. But again, this is a harvest thing, not a Halloween thing. The modern holiday is just that: a modern invention. It takes some elements of the Celtic holiday, some elements of the Catholic holiday-eve, but then just slowly develops the excesses that America has been so good at over the last century.
Today in 1810 marked the beginning of the end for the loan star Republic of West Florida. Which is rather odd, since technically the end of the beginning hasn’t really happened yet. October 27, 1810 marks the day that President Madison issued a proclamation declaring that the land of West Florida was actually part of the Louisiana Purchase all along, and therefore properly American soil.
Now be it known that I, James Madison, President of the United States of America, in pursuance of these weighty and urgent considerations, have deemed it right and requisite that possession should be taken of the said territory in the name and behalf of the United States. William C. C. Claiborne, governor of the Orleans Territory, of which the said Territory is to be taken as part, will accordingly proceed to execute the same and to exercise over the said Territory the authorities and functions legally appertaining to his office; and the good people inhabiting the same are invited and enjoined to pay due respect to him in that character, to be obedient to the laws, to maintain order, to cherish harmony, and in every manner to conduct themselves as peaceable citizens, under full assurance that they will be protected in the enjoyment of their liberty, property, and religion.
The full proclamation can be found here.
So here’s the thing about that. You’ll notice that Madison declares that the land will be part of the Orleans Territory (what will become the state of Louisiana, to be distinguished from the territory of Louisiana, which is the rest of the Purchase land). Had the West Floridians simply wanted to be part of the United States, that would have been all well and good, they might have accepted. The Spanish still held Mobile, so it wouldn’t have been that easy, but the surrender of Baton Rouge to the US military would have likely ended the Spanish occupation of the land.
But the West Floridians don’t want to be incorporated into an existing US Territory. Or state. They want to be the State of West Florida. It’s telling that when they choose a chief executive for the republic, they call him a governor. They’re working on a constitution that’s basically a state constitution. And so they’re going to say fie to the United States for now in hopes of negotiating a better deal down the road.
The end of the beginning, by the way, will be November 20th, when this blog is on a hiatus for a cruise. That will mark the election of Fulwer Skipwith as governor. On November 12th a legislative election will be held and will convene on the 19th in St. Francisville.
In many ways, DC of 1810 is an ignominious place for a nation that was seeking an international identity to have its seat of power. A district to house the federal government was allowed for in the Constitution, but the federalists were quite happy continuing to run the country from Philadelphia for as long as they held power. Which was until about 1801. So let’s look at the 1800 census for the three cities of the District of Columbia.
Washington, DC: 3,210
Georgetown, DC: 2,993
Alexandria, DC: 4,971
Perhaps a step back for a moment. At this point in history, DC is as was allowed by the Constitution: “[a] District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States”. The cession was by Virginia, which gave up the city of Alexandria, and Maryland, which gave up Georgetown and some swampland. It won’t be until 1846 that Alexandria will be returned to Virginia, or until 1871 when Georgetown and Washington are combined into a single unit.
Anyway, that was DC when the federal government moved in. A district where the population was largely along the two major Potomac River ports. The Capitol Building was unfinished when the Senate started meeting there, with the two wings complete but no permanent central structure. The Presidential Mansion had been constructed, the largest residence in the United States at the time, but surrounding it were cattle paths and roads that would peter out and just up and die.
By 1810 the population of the District had increased. 8200 people lived in Washington, 7200 in Alexandria, and nearly 5000 in Georgetown, making all three among the 30 largest cities in the United States at the time. But still it was dwarfed by Philadelphia from when it came. 9 years may also seem like plenty of time to get things done, but by 1810 the Capitol is still incomplete. So why move to such a miserable little town? Lobbyists. File another one under the heading of the more things change the more they stay the same. Influence peddlers in Philadelphia held a lot of sway, and the more egalitarian DR party that came into power with Jefferson wanted to see the central seat of power in the United States moved away from the comfortable back rooms of 1800 Philadelphia.
And so here sits the central bureaucracy for a country that sees itself the equal of the UK (London has just reached one million residences) or France (Paris has just over half a million even with the guillotine-happy revolution so recently finished).
Still, these inauspicious roots are all that will be needed, along with the brilliant plan of L’Enfant, for Washington to grow as a city as the government it held grew as an international power.