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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

«·Preparation for Western Settlement · The Spirit of the Frontier·»

The Western Migration and New States

The People.—With government established, federal arms victorious over the Indians, and the lands surveyed for sale, the way was prepared for the immigrants. They came with a rush. Young New Englanders, weary of tilling the stony soil of their native states, poured through New York and Pennsylvania, some settling on the northern bank of the Ohio but most of them in the Lake region. Sons and daughters of German farmers in Pennsylvania and many a redemptioner who had discharged his bond of servitude pressed out into Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, or beyond. From the exhausted fields and the clay hills of the Southern states came pioneers of English and Scotch-Irish descent, the latter in great numbers. Indeed one historian of high authority has ventured to say that “the rapid expansion of the United States from a coast strip to a continental area is largely a Scotch-Irish achievement.” While native Americans of mixed stocks led the way into the West, it was not long before immigrants direct from Europe, under the stimulus of company enterprise, began to filter into the new settlements in increasing numbers.

The types of people were as various as the nations they represented. Timothy Flint, who published his entertaining Recollections in 1826, found the West a strange mixture of all sorts and conditions of people. Some of them, he relates, had been hunters in the upper world of the Mississippi, above the falls of St. Anthony. Some had been still farther north, in Canada. Still others had wandered from the South—the Gulf of Mexico, the Red River, and the Spanish country. French boatmen and trappers, Spanish traders from the Southwest, Virginia planters with their droves of slaves mingled with English, German, and Scotch-Irish farmers. Hunters, forest rangers, restless bordermen, and squatters, like the foaming combers of an advancing tide, went first. Then followed the farmers, masters of the ax and plow, with their wives who shared every burden and hardship and introduced some of the features of civilized life. The hunters and rangers passed on to new scenes; the home makers built for all time.

The Number of Immigrants.—There were no official stations on the frontier to record the number of immigrants who entered the West during the decades following the American Revolution. But travelers of the time record that every road was “crowded” with pioneers and their families, their wagons and cattle; and that they were seldom out of the sound of the snapping whip of the teamster urging forward his horses or the crack of the hunter’s rifle as he brought down his evening meal. “During the latter half of 1787,” says Coman, “more than nine hundred boats floated down the Ohio carrying eighteen thousand men, women, and children, and twelve thousand horses, sheep, and cattle, and six hundred and fifty wagons.” Other lines of travel were also crowded and with the passing years the flooding tide of home seekers rose higher and higher.

The Western Routes.—Four main routes led into the country beyond the Appalachians. The Genesee road, beginning at Albany, ran almost due west to the present site of Buffalo on Lake Erie, through a level country. In the dry season, wagons laden with goods could easily pass along it into northern Ohio. A second route, through Pittsburgh, was fed by three eastern branches, one starting at Philadelphia, one at Baltimore, and another at Alexandria. A third main route wound through the mountains from Alexandria to Boonesboro in Kentucky and then westward across the Ohio to St. Louis. A fourth, the most famous of them all, passed through the Cumberland Gap and by branches extended into the Cumberland valley and the Kentucky country.

Of these four lines of travel, the Pittsburgh route offered the most advantages. Pioneers, no matter from what section they came, when once they were on the headwaters of the Ohio and in possession of a flatboat, could find a quick and easy passage into all parts of the West and Southwest. Whether they wanted to settle in Ohio, Kentucky, or western Tennessee they could find their way down the drifting flood to their destination or at least to some spot near it. Many people from the South as well as the Northern and Middle states chose this route; so it came about that the sons and daughters of Virginia and the Carolinas mingled with those of New York, Pennsylvania, and New England in the settlement of the Northwest territory.

The Methods of Travel into the West.—Many stories giving exact descriptions of methods of travel into the West in the early days have been preserved. The country was hardly opened before visitors from the Old World and from the Eastern states, impelled by curiosity, made their way to the very frontier of civilization and wrote books to inform or amuse the public. One of them, Gilbert Imlay, an English traveler, has given us an account of the Pittsburgh route as he found it in 1791. “If a man … " he writes, “has a family or goods of any sort to remove, his best way, then, would be to purchase a waggon and team of horses to carry his property to Redstone Old Fort or to Pittsburgh, according as he may come from the Northern or Southern states. A good waggon will cost, at Philadelphia, about £10 … and the horses about £12 each; they would cost something more both at Baltimore and Alexandria. The waggon may be covered with canvass, and if it is the choice of the people, they may sleep in it of nights with the greatest safety. But if they dislike that, there are inns of accommodation the whole distance on the different roads.... The provisions I would purchase in the same manner [that is, from the farmers along the road]; and by having two or three camp kettles and stopping every evening when the weather is fine upon the brink of some rivulet and by kindling a fire they may soon dress their own food.... This manner of journeying is so far from being disagreeable that in a fine season it is extremely pleasant.” The immigrant once at Pittsburgh or Wheeling could then buy a flatboat of a size required for his goods and stock, and drift down the current to his journey’s end.

Roads and Trails into the Western Territory

The Admission of Kentucky and Tennessee.—When the eighteenth century drew to a close, Kentucky had a population larger than Delaware, Rhode Island, or New Hampshire. Tennessee claimed 60,000 inhabitants. In 1792 Kentucky took her place as a state beside her none too kindly parent, Virginia. The Eastern Federalists resented her intrusion; but they took some consolation in the admission of Vermont because the balance of Eastern power was still retained.

As if to assert their independence of old homes and conservative ideas the makers of Kentucky’s first constitution swept aside the landed qualification on the suffrage and gave the vote to all free white males. Four years later, Kentucky’s neighbor to the south, Tennessee, followed this step toward a wider democracy. After encountering fierce opposition from the Federalists, Tennessee was accepted as the sixteenth state.

Ohio.—The door of the union had hardly opened for Tennessee when another appeal was made to Congress, this time from the pioneers in Ohio. The little posts founded at Marietta and Cincinnati had grown into flourishing centers of trade. The stream of immigrants, flowing down the river, added daily to their numbers and the growing settlements all around poured produce into their markets to be exchanged for “store goods.” After the Indians were disposed of in 1794 and the last British soldier left the frontier forts under the terms of the Jay treaty of 1795, tiny settlements of families appeared on Lake Erie in the “Western Reserve,” a region that had been retained by Connecticut when she surrendered her other rights in the Northwest.

At the close of the century, Ohio, claiming a population of more than 50,000, grew discontented with its territorial status. Indeed, two years before the enactment of the Northwest Ordinance, squatters in that region had been invited by one John Emerson to hold a convention after the fashion of the men of Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield in old Connecticut and draft a frame of government for themselves. This true son of New England declared that men “have an undoubted right to pass into every vacant country and there to form their constitution and that from the confederation of the whole United States Congress is not empowered to forbid them.” This grand convention was never held because the heavy hand of the government fell upon the leaders; but the spirit of John Emerson did not perish. In November, 1802, a convention chosen by voters, assembled under the authority of Congress at Chillicothe, drew up a constitution. It went into force after a popular ratification. The roll of the convention bore such names as Abbot, Baldwin, Cutler, Huntington, Putnam, and Sargent, and the list of counties from which they came included Adams, Fairfield, Hamilton, Jefferson, Trumbull, and Washington, showing that the new America in the West was peopled and led by the old stock. In 1803 Ohio was admitted to the union.

Indiana and Illinois.—As in the neighboring state, the frontier in Indiana advanced northward from the Ohio, mainly under the leadership, however, of settlers from the South—restless Kentuckians hoping for better luck in a newer country and pioneers from the far frontiers of Virginia and North Carolina. As soon as a tier of counties swinging upward like the horns of the moon against Ohio on the east and in the Wabash Valley on the west was fairly settled, a clamor went up for statehood. Under the authority of an act of Congress in 1816 the Indianians drafted a constitution and inaugurated their government at Corydon. “The majority of the members of the convention,” we are told by a local historian, “were frontier farmers who had a general idea of what they wanted and had sense enough to let their more erudite colleagues put it into shape.”

Two years later, the pioneers of Illinois, also settled upward from the Ohio, like Indiana, elected their delegates to draft a constitution. Leadership in the convention, quite properly, was taken by a man born in New York and reared in Tennessee; and the constitution as finally drafted “was in its principal provisions a copy of the then existing constitutions of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana.... Many of the articles are exact copies in wording although differently arranged and numbered.”

Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.—Across the Mississippi to the far south, clearing and planting had gone on with much bustle and enterprise. The cotton and sugar lands of Louisiana, opened by French and Spanish settlers, were widened in every direction by planters with their armies of slaves from the older states. New Orleans, a good market and a center of culture not despised even by the pioneer, grew apace. In 1810 the population of lower Louisiana was over 75,000. The time had come, said the leaders of the people, to fulfill the promise made to France in the treaty of cession; namely, to grant to the inhabitants of the territory statehood and the rights of American citizens. Federalists from New England still having a voice in Congress, if somewhat weaker, still protested in tones of horror. “I am compelled to declare it as my deliberate opinion,” pronounced Josiah Quincy in the House of Representatives, “that if this bill [to admit Louisiana] passes, the bonds of this Union are virtually dissolved … that as it will be the right of all, so it will be the duty of some [states] to prepare definitely for a separation; amicably if they can, violently if they must.... It is a death blow to the Constitution. It may afterwards linger; but lingering, its fate will, at no very distant period, be consummated.” Federalists from New York like those from New England had their doubts about the wisdom of admitting Western states; but the party of Jefferson and Madison, having the necessary majority, granted the coveted statehood to Louisiana in 1812.

When, a few years later, Mississippi and Alabama knocked at the doors of the union, the Federalists had so little influence, on account of their conduct during the second war with England, that spokesmen from the Southwest met a kindlier reception at Washington. Mississippi, in 1817, and Alabama, in 1819, took their places among the United States of America. Both of them, while granting white manhood suffrage, gave their constitutions the tone of the old East by providing landed qualifications for the governor and members of the legislature.

Missouri.—Far to the north in the Louisiana purchase, a new commonwealth was rising to power. It was peopled by immigrants who came down the Ohio in fleets of boats or crossed the Mississippi from Kentucky and Tennessee. Thrifty Germans from Pennsylvania, hardy farmers from Virginia ready to work with their own hands, freemen seeking freemen’s homes, planters with their slaves moving on from worn-out fields on the seaboard, came together in the widening settlements of the Missouri country. Peoples from the North and South flowed together, small farmers and big planters mingling in one community. When their numbers had reached sixty thousand or more, they precipitated a contest over their admission to the union, “ringing an alarm bell in the night,” as Jefferson phrased it. The favorite expedient of compromise with slavery was brought forth in Congress once more. Maine consequently was brought into the union without slavery and Missouri with slavery. At the same time there was drawn westward through the rest of the Louisiana territory a line separating servitude from slavery.

«·Preparation for Western Settlement · The Spirit of the Frontier·»