Today our crew did some shooting around some sites important to the Reconstruction era in North Carolina – the old NC Capital, and the old Caswell County Courthouse. Enjoy the photos below, and you can preorder Victory of the Union, in which the footage will appear, which is slated for release in January, 2014.
There were many men crucial to the American cause in the War for Independence, and among the foremost was Patrick Henry, sometimes called the orator of the Revolution. He is best known for his “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech, but that is just one instance of his service to the country. In this paper we will examine three of Patrick Henry’s most important contributions to the American war effort – his opposition to the Stamp Act, his “Give Me Liberty” speech, and his opposition to the ratification of the U. S. Constitution.
After failing in several business endeavors, Henry became a lawyer. He soon gained renown for his great orator skills, and was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765. Only nine days after joining the assembly, he would introduce a series of resolutions that would shift the course of the national political debates, and drastically effect his own political career. Earlier in 1765 the British Parliament had passed the Stamp Act, putting a tax on the American colonies to pay for the debts contracted in the French and Indian War. The colonists believed that this tax violated their rights of self government, but little real action had been taken. On May 29, 1765, Patrick Henry introduced what would be called the Virginia Resolves. They declared that colonists had the traditional rights of Englishman, including a right to tax themselves through their representatives. After a long debate, including great eloquence on the part of Henry, the bill was passed. Inspired by Virginia’s actions, most of the other colonies would pass similar resolutions in the following months.1
Patrick Henry Speaks on the Stamp Act Resolutions
Over the next decade the conflict between the king and his colonies would only deepen. Henry took leadership of the more radical portion of the House of Burgesses. British troops were sent to the colonies to enforce the new taxes. Debate raged throughout the country, and again Patrick Henry would rise to lead the nation. The House of Burgesses was dissolved by the king-appointed governor of the colony, but conventions were organized to take its place. It was on March 23, 1775, before the Second Virginia Convention that Patrick Henry would deliver the most famous speech of America’s founding. He rose to defend resolutions he had put forward to organize the colony’s militia for possible war against Great Britain. He concluded with these now world famous words:
Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!2
This eloquent speech swayed the minds of the delegates. The resolution was adopted, and Henry’s speech went out to the rest of the nation. He was one of the first to argue that war with England was unavoidable.3 He proved to be correct, and before long the struggle with England was begun in earnest. This speech went on to become one of the most famous speeches in the English language, inspiring people around the world to this day.
One of the last of the great services Patrick Henry provided to the United States occurred many years later, ironically in his opposition to the ratification of the Constitution. After serving two terms in the Continental Congress he had turned his focus towards Virginia, serving for several years as governor. When a Constitutional Convention was called to address the problems of the Articles of Confederation, Patrick Henry was elected as a delegate. But he refused to go, saying he “smelled a rat.”4 He was afraid that too much power would be given to a central government. When the Constitution was returned, he saw his worst fears as realized. He took leadership of those fighting the ratification of the Constitution in Virginia. One of his major complaints was that the Constitution contained no bill of rights. The power of the Federal government was supposed to be strictly limited, so many argued that a Bill of Rights was unnecessary. Although Henry would ultimately fail in his mission, the protests from the ratification conventions were instrumental in the passage of the Bill of Rights, which remains a vital part of the Constitution to this day. As the Federal government had assumed more and more power, the Bill of Rights has proved very useful to preserve the freedom of the people of the United States.
Through his push for a bill of rights, his call of the country to arms, and his opposition to the Stamp Act through the Virginia Resolves, Patrick Henry served his country well. He inspired resistance to the British usurpation of power, gave teeth to that resistance by convincing the Virginians to organize the militia, and helped put restrictions in place to preserve the rights of the people. Without him, America today might well look very different.
Patrick Henry on a 1955 stamp
1. Edmund Morgan, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977), p. 22. 2. George Morgan, The True Patrick Henry (Bridgewater, Virginia: American Foundation Publications, 2000), p. 191. 3. Moses Coit Tyler, Patrick Henry (Boston: Houghton Miffen Company, 1898),p. 138-139. 4. The Birth of the Republic, p. 131.
The Rise of the Confederacy series is now shipping. You can order it now from our store. This series coves the first half of the Civil War, from Manassas to Antietam. The next series, covering the rest of the Civil War through Reconstruction, Victory of the Union, will be available January, 2014. You can also preorder it today.
As the Confederate commerce raider Florida prepared for what would be a legendary cruise, Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory sent instructions to her captain, James Maffitt. Included were these interesting instructions to encode messages sent back to America, using a book cipher. He wrote:
Obtain at Mobile two uniform copies of any small English lexicon or dictionary, one to be retained by you and the other to be sent to the Department. Whenever in your letters or dispatches a word is used which may betray what you may desire to conceal, instead of using that word write the numbers, in figures within brackets, of the page where it is to be found, and also the number of the word on the page, counting from the top. Thus, if you desire to indicate the world “prisoner” and should find this word in the hundredth page of the book and the tenth from the top of the page, you would indicate it thus: 10. In this manner you can use a cipher without the possibility of its detection.1
1. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1883) series 1, volume 1, p. 762-763.
Dr. Jonathan Letterman, medical director of the Union Army of the Potomac, revolutionized battlefield medicine with his Letterman Plan. In this week’s video at the Pry Field Hospital Museum, with Kyle Wichtendahl, we discuss the changes he made at the Battle of Antietam.
The Mexican-American War, lasting from 1846 – 1848, was one of America’s shorter and less costly wars. The United States soldiers disastrously defeated the Mexican army, capturing Mexico City and winning a complete victory in the peace treaty. But why was the Mexican War fought? Was the United States in the right? How do these principles apply to the nation today? This essay will examine these questions.
The Mexican-American war, at the time it began, was simply the next step in the territorial disagreements between the two countries. The United States had annexed the Republic of Texas, which had declared itself independent from Mexico, but Mexico refused to acknowledge it. A border conflict between the armies was inevitable, and that fighting soon brought on full scale war. But the roots of the conflict go back a decade to the Texas Revolution, and the annexation of Texas the year before, for who was right on those issues really determined whether the Mexican American War was just. If Texas was part of the United States, America had every right to defend it. But if it had been stolen from Mexico, the United States was in the wrong.
In the early 19th century the philosophy of Manifest Destiny was common in America.1 It held that it was “our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”2 When Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, it opened up immigration into the mostly unpopulated land of Texas. Many Americans went there, driven by the urge to spread west across the continent, even though it was not part of the United States. Many came from the southern states and brought slaves with them. Before long the Mexican government found that part of their country had begun to look very much like the United States. They tried to backtrack on some policies, outlawing immigration from the United States and banning slavery. The Mexican government was unstable, and President Santa Anna dissolved the Congress and created a military dictatorship. Several Mexican states declared their independence from his rule. The American settlers in Texas did the same, publishing a Texas Declaration of Independence. It was patterned after the United States Declaration of Independence, and gave a list of reasons why they believed they had a right to independence.3 In evaluating whether this was right or not, it is certainly true that most of the American immigrants had little love for the Mexican government, and many wished all along to be part of the United States. Some in the United States supported the revolution as a way to gain more land, as they hoped to eventually annex the new nation. But on the other hand, the Texans did have valid grievances.
Surrender of Santa Anna
The Texas Revolution began in 1835, and within six months they were victorious. Mexico was defeated, but they did acknowledge the independence of Texas. For nearly a decade, Texas remained an independent republic. Although they had thrown off Mexican rule, the settlers wished to be part of the United States. In 1845 the United States government accepted a proposal for annexation by the Texan government. With Mexico still claiming Texas ground as their own, the conflict soon escalated. They determined to fight for the southern portion of the modern state of Texas, which they said historically had never been part of that province. When US soldiers moved into the disputed area, the Mexican-American War broke out.4
The Americans were too eager to spread across the continent and did not care enough for the claims of other nations. But they were right when it came to the Mexican War. Their attitude may have been wrong, and at many points along the way they could have been much more willing to listen to the arguments of the Mexican government. But Texas had a right to declare their independence, the United States could legally annex Texas, and they had the right to fight a war to protect it.
Texas Declaration of Independence
1. Donald Snow and Dennis Drew, From Lexington to Baghdad and Beyond (Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2010) 3rd ed. p. 272.
2. Manifest Destiny: Westward Expansion by Shane Mountjoy (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009) p. 10.
3. Capt. B. B. Paddock, History of Texas: Fort Worth and the Texas Northwest Edition (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1922) p. 268-270.
After the Battle of Chickamauga, one Union soldier, Sergeant William Miller of the 75th Indiana, wrote this in his diary:
This has been a terible day to the American Nation and many bitter tears will be Shed north and south for the dead of Chickamauga. There are thousands of men in the prime of life who this morning felt they were destined to live a ripe old age who to night are lying on the Battle field Stark and Stiff and who will be coverd where they fell with a few shovel fill of dirt and left to rot with nothing to mark the place where a hero perished for his country and that the government might live. They will not answer to Roll Call in their respective companies any more and the report will be “Killed at Chickamauga Sept 19th 1863.”
It was 150 years ago in one of the great dramatic naval fights of the Civil War, the little CSS David took on the nightly USS New Ironsides! This clip is a portion from the Rise of the Confederacy series. You can order it now in our store.
One great blot upon the history of the War for Independence is the constant squabbling between the American officers on matters of rank. One of George Washington’s major roles was to console upset and petty generals. He wrote this in a letter to Brigadier General William Woodford to convince him not to resign:
Trifling punctilios [scruples] should have no Influence upon a Mans conduct in such a Cause; and at Such a time as this—If Smaller matters do not yield to greater; If trifles, light as Air, in comparison of what we are contending for, can withdraw, or withold Gentlemen from Service, when our All is at Stake, and a single cast of the Die may turn the Tables, what are we to expect—It is not a common Contest we are Ingaged In—every thing valuable to us depends upon the Success of it—and the success upon a speedy, & vigorous Exertion.1