Monday, March 28, 2011

How did plantation crops and the slavery system change between 1800 and 1860? Why did these changes occur?

The changes occurred between 1800 and 1860 in plantation crops and slavery systems were due to the Industrial Revolution.

After the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, the Southern states were granted freedom to decide about the legality of slavery. At this point in time, the cotton production was very low and there were around 700,000 slaves in the whole country. Some delegates at the Convention assumed that the evil of slavery was “dying out…and would disappear”. Cotton changed the course of the American economic and racial future, because of the mass production of textiles. The cotton quantities increased considerably; and by 1840, the South was producing and exporting over 2/3 of the world’s cotton, giving the region strong economic power. In the same time with the cotton production growth, the supply of slaves needed for the growing of such a production was restricted, making slaves more valuable and creating the so-called “mania for buying negroes” and having as consequence the domestic slave trade. White planters started looking for new slaves in the upper South states, and between 1800 and 1860, the domestic slave trade emerged as a crucial commercial enterprise operating through two systems: the coastal one and the inland one. The coastal system sent slaves to the sugar plantations in Louisiana, whereas the inland one to the cotton plantations. The domestic slave trade was crucial for the prosperity of the southern economy, and it was an important resource to raise money, straightening the economy of the Upper South.

Henretta, James A. and David Brody. America: A Concise History, Volume I: To 1877. 4th ed., Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2010, 349-353

Why did women's issues suddenly become so prominent in American culture?

Women issues came forth when they started to be needed in the society. Being excluded from public roles and being numerous, women got involved in religious activities where they were able to receive recognition. After 1800, over 70% of the congregational churches were women, claiming spiritual authority. The religious activism advanced women’s education, as churches established academies where girls received education. Staring with 1820, educated women were able to displace men as schoolteachers, also because they accepted lower payment than the men. As schoolteachers, women gained an acknowledged place in public life. Republicanism also changed the social and family values, bringing forth the principle of equality between men and women.

Henretta, James A. and David Brody. America: A Concise History, Volume I: To 1877. 4th ed., Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2010, 252-253.

What were the central problems of the Articles of Confederation, and how did the delegates to the Philadelphia convention address them?

The political problems included territory disputes over western lands delayed the ratification. The economic problems consisted of debts, taxes and tariffs. After the Revolutionary War, debt was a problem throughout the country. Money was owed to American citizens and to the French, who supported the war. The Government was limited in its capacity to handle debts and expenses; no authority to tax the states and the people and no means to raise money in order to repay the war debts. Tariff wars erupted between states, as each state was following its own interest in trade, at the expense of the other states. The Northern states wanted to abolish slavery, whereas the Southern states strongly depended on the slave labor to work their cotton and tobacco fields. From a military point of view, the federal government had no means to provide the necessary defense and security.

A revision of the Articles of Confederation was required. The convention met in Philadelphia and considered a plan for a powerful national government, rather than revising the Articles of Confederation. This was the Virginia Plan, proposed by James Madison. The New Jersey Plan introduced by William Paterson, proposed the preservation of the states’ powers. After one month, the delegates decided to continue with Madison’s plan, looking for ideas that would be accepted by most citizens. To settle state-related issues, the delegates restricted the extent of the central authority of left it ambiguous. State legislatures would elect members of the Senate, giving legislative power to the state. A compromise was made over slavery, through the “fugitive” clause; the word “slave” was not used in the Constitution, calling them “all other Persons” and counting them as 3/5 of a free person for representation and taxation. By addressing the issues and concerns of smaller states and slavery states, the delegates created a powerful national government, with power of taxation, military defense and authority to make laws.

Henretta, James A. and David Brody. America: A Concise History, Volume I: To 1877. 4th ed., Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2010, 177-185 

Renée C. Rebman, The Articles of Confederation, Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2006.

What factors prompted the large-scale migration of English men and women to America?

The main factors that prompted the massive English migration to America were economical and religious factors. English peasants looked for economic security, while the puritans tried to escape religious persecution. The rapid population growth, the economic hardship culminating with the Price Revolution, and contrasting the rich new lands with plenty of gold and silver, have determined many English men and women to become settlers in the New World. The Price Revolution consisted of a huge inflation generated by the infusion of capital from the massive influx of gold and silver brought from America. And since economics has consequences on politics, the loss of wealth of the upper class determined the weakening of its influence over their house in the Parliament – the House of Lords, while the House of Commons offered a voice to rich commoners and property-owner yeomen. The Price Revolution affected also the peasants, who were kicked out by owners and dispossessed, being forced to live in poverty. On another hand, the Puritans came to America seeking religious freedom and land. They were anti-catholic and believed the English Church needed to be reformed. Many of them migrated and established churches based on their radical beliefs. The Puritans’ migration started in 1630 with a group of 900 people. Harsh weather was yet another migration cause. England’s weather cooled down around 1600, determining crops loss and prices increase. The well-known ship ‘Mayflower’ has played a significant role in the history of the English migration to America. In 1620 Mayflower was the ship that sailed from England to the rich, resourceful New England with pilgrims in search of a new and better life.

Source: Henretta, James A. and David Brody. America: A Concise History, Volume I: To 1877. 4th ed., Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2010, 26-33

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why was the Constitution a controversial document even as it was being written?

The American Constitution was controversial from the beginning, as ideas were divided between advocates - a solution to all the nation’s problems, and critics - a perversion of its republican principles. The advocates believed that the Constitution extended their republican ideas, adding a new level to the elected government, while the critics believe the republicans worked in small political units, in this case the states. How to divide the power between state governments and central government was therefore a main controversy while the Constitution was written and also later in time, remaining an important issue until today.

Source: Henretta, James A. and David Brody. America: A Concise History, Volume I: To 1877. 4th ed., Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2010, Chapter 6

Friday, March 25, 2011

What made Native American peoples vulnerable to conquest by European adventurers?

The Native American peoples proved themselves inferior to the European conquerors from social, economical, political and military points of view. Many of them were in decline before the arrival of the Europeans; they overburdened the environment by hunting, depleting the fauna and flora. They also died from urban diseases, like tuberculosis and on top of this, they did not have immunity to the new European illnesses and hundreds of thousands were killed in this way. The survivors intermarried and settled in less powerful communities. The Indian population grew slowly because of the harsh conditions. On another hand, the Europeans had superior military technology; they were wearing metal armors, heavy weapons and they had cavalry. The Aztecs had the knowledge of purifying gold but did not know how to make iron tools and weapons.

Source: Henretta, James A. and David Brody. America: A Concise History, Volume I: To 1877. 4th ed., Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2010, Chapter 1