Our last installment ended with the administration of Gov. James Ray who started his tenure hopefully as an energetic young governor, independent of party affiliations and ended poorly with party conflict, a ham-fisted effort to exchange Supreme Court appointments for his own appointment to the U.S. Senate, and others ridiculing his optimism about the prospects of railroads.
Prior installments of this series are here:
This time, I’ll cover generally the period from 1832-1848, a period marked by economic turbulence, development of transportation infrastructure, a revamped approach to property taxes, the removal of Native Americans from the state, and the beginnings of a general system of public education.
I am going to try something a little different for installment 3. My general plan has been to write installments once a month during Indiana’s bicentennial year covering, more or less, 16 year periods. Installment 3 came in at about 6,300 words which is a little gratuitous in the blogging world. So, I’m going to break it up into chunks, release them over the next several days, and see how it goes. Here is the plan: 3.1: National Context; 3.2: Gov. Noah Noble (1832-1837); 3.3: Indiana’s Mammoth Internal Improvement Act of 1836; 3.4: Governor Wallace (1837-1840) and Indian removal in Indiana; 3.5: Gov. Samuel Bigger (1840-1843); and 3.6: Gov. James Whitcomb (1843-1848), the Mexican American War, and Education in Indiana.
The National Scene
Indiana was not operating in a vacuum, so to set the scene, it’s probably useful to have a bit of national context. On the national level, the Presidents of the United States during this period:
1829 – 1837: Andrew Jackson
1837 – 1841: Martin Van Buren
1841 – 1841: William Henry Harrison
1841 – 1845: John Tyler
1845 – 1849: James K. Polk
As I mentioned before, Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson’s tenure featured aggressive (aggression seemed to permeate everything Jackson did) Indian removal policies, and a populist opposition to the National Bank (“You are a den of vipers and thieves. I have determined to rout you out, and by the Eternal, (bringing his fist down on the table) I will rout you out!”)
Martin Van Buren (“Old Kinderhook”) (1837 – 1841) Van Buren’s tenure had an inauspicious start with the Panic of 1837. The Panic was preceded by an economic expansion that had been fueled by a boom in silver, land sales and tariffs, and significant investment from Great Britain related to cotton production, and state backed bonds financing transportation projects (much more on this later on). Rising interest rates from British lenders, a decline in cotton prices, misguided U.S. monetary policy, and land speculation in the west all contributed to a collapse in 1837 which led to an economic decline that lasted for about seven years. Van Buren also declined an initial request by Texas to join the Union. Meanwhile, the Mormons were on the move between Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and ultimately Utah. With respect to slavery, Van Buren was morally opposed but regarded it as sanctioned by the Constitution and, therefore, opposed its abolition in Washington D.C. or in the U.S. generally.
William Henry Harrison (1841). Van Buren was blamed for the hard times, opening the way for a Whig Presidency to supplant the Democrats who had held office for quite some time. And, so, running on a campaign of log cabins and hard cider, William Henry (“Tippecanoe”) Harrison was elected. He is noted for having the longest inaugural speech and the shortest Presidency. His only official act of consequence was to call Congress into special session because federal funds were in such trouble, the government could not continue to operate until the regular session in December. His candidacy was very helpful to the Whigs in Indiana — although his political fortunes in the state had diminished as the anti-slavery faction of Jonathan Jennings and the Hoosiers in the eastern part of the state supplanted Harrison and his supporters, the years had mellowed Hoosier memories of Harrison, and he enjoyed a great deal of support borne of nostalgia there.
John Tyler (1841-1845) Harrison’s vice-president, John Tyler (“His Accidency”) assumed the Presidency upon Harrison’s death. It was not necessarily clear from the Constitution that this was the required protocol, but Tyler acted decisively in the transition and the precedent became codified in the 25th amendment. His most notable success was the annexation of Texas which had been declined by Van Buren not long before. Another initiative passed by Congress during Tyler’s early Presidency was the Preemption Act of 1841. Under its terms, squatters would get a right of first refusal when they had settled on federal lands. When it was offered up for sale, they were entitled to buy up to 160 acres at a discount before the land was offered to the general public. Ohio, Indiana, and other states admitted after them were to be paid 10% of the proceeds of that public land which was to be used for internal improvements. The Premption Act helped fuel the fires of Manifest Destiny, the notion that American settlers were destined to expand throughout the continent.
Tyler’s administration was plagued by opposition within his own party, partly because his Presidency was inconvenient to the perpetually frustrated Presidential ambitions of Congressional leader, Henry Clay. One division point between Tyler and Congress was the issue of the Distribution Program. As a result of the lingering economic problems from the Panic of 1837, Tyler thought it necessary to keep tariffs high (John Meynard Keynes and his notions about stimulus spending were not yet a thing) — High tariffs were contrary to an earlier deal with Southerners where the tariffs were expected to fall and, furthermore, Tyler sought to eliminate distributions from the tariffs to the states due to the poor condition of federal revenues. Congressional Whigs were unwilling to reduce distributions to the States. After a couple of vetoes that inspired ill-will, Tyler got his way and ended distributions to the states. These fights had roots in Henry Clay’s “American System,” proposed and largely adopted in the 1810s. It consisted of three primary ideas – a tariff to protect American industry, a national bank to foster commerce, and federal subsidies for internal improvements. These were generally opposed by the Southerners who wanted to sell cotton abroad, did not have as much in the way of industry, and did not have as great a need for internal improvements as the westerners.
James K. Polk (1845-1849). Tyler did not run for election in his own right. Succeeding Tyler was dark-horse candidate, James K. Polk (“Young Hickory”) who beat out Van Buren for the Democratic nomination in 1844. He was a remarkably successful expansionist. Mexico opposed U.S. annexation of Texas, so the U.S. went ahead and took most of the southwestern U.S. away from them in the Mexican-American War in 1846 and 1847. What could have probably been a minor border dispute was turned into a large scale war. Ultimately, Mexico was forced to recognize the annexation of Texas, recognize the Rio Grande as the border, and obliged to sell parts or all of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California for $15 million and the U.S. agreeing to assume about $3 million of Mexico’s debt to U.S. citizens.
Polk also forced a resolution of the British claim to the Oregon Territory — setting the boundary at the 49th parallel (something less than the “54-40 or fight” rhetoric). And, he managed to oversee a reduction of tariffs in a manner that was pleasing to his Southern constituency. “Additionally, he built an independent treasury system that lasted until 1913′ oversaw the opening of the U.S. Naval Academy, the Smithsonian Institution, the groundbreaking for the Washington Monument, and the issuance of the first United States postage stamp.” Having accomplished all that, he declined to run for re-election and died of cholera three months later.
Next time: Tomorrow, we’ll get started with Indiana and Governor Noah Noble (1832-1837).