Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Guest Post: Territorial Amendment of 1847 by Allen W. McDonnell

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

While many different standards had been used to define state borders in the first decades of the USA, the Territorial Amendment of 1847 was intended to limit new states from being made that would be grossly imbalanced in territory compared to the states already part of the union.

The amendment was proposed in 1846 and ratified the next year to preclude any more distortions from either the hardcore New England or Plantation South in how the rest of the continent would be organized.

Often called the "Checkerboard Amendment," the act stipulated that from the 49th parallel north and 95th longitude west, all territory in North America belonging to the United States would be divided into squares five lines of latitude by five degrees of longitude. The further from the equator, the closer together the lines of longitude become, so five degrees was chosen as a reasonable standard for the area occupied by the USA.

Because of the proposed amendment, Iowa reworked its borders to have 95 west as its western border and added a degree of territory north from the nominal Minnesota Territory to make up for the loss. When Wisconsin applied for statehood in 1848, the framers absorbed the remnant of the pre-amendment MN Territory into the state as a northwest panhandle giving the state a much longer Lake Superior shoreline.

Moving west from the 95 meridian line there were now six territories per row across the great plains and rocky mountains. Because of the amendment, the treaty settling the Mexican-American War specified that the new border with Mexico would arbitrarily be set at the 29th parallel to form four states per column crossing from the Rio Grande river valley to the Pacific Ocean. Parts of Texas, Louisiana and Florida went south of this point but all three had become states before the amendment was ratified. For the sake of gaining more southern votes Texas voluntarily ceded about 100 miles of its panhandle on the north and 80 miles of its territory that extended west of the 105 meridian longitude line but, in exchange, received back the piece of New Mexico territory east of the 105th meridian. Because of the angled coastline only three new territories extended west of the new Texas border being the New Mexico, Arizona and Baja California, with the latter being somewhat triangular in shape. In all the rearrangement via grid created 21 territories in the west, which was somewhat less than the 30 existing states once Wisconsin joined the union in 1848.

One provision of the amendment was that territories applying for statehood were not required to declare the legality of slavery on a statewide basis in order to qualify for admission, nor were they required to maintain a status of slavery or free labor once they had become states. So long as it was legal on the federal level, states could decide individually whether the practice was economically and morally sound for their geographic situation. Texas specifically was granted the right to divide itself into four states based on the grid lines if they so desired without further approval by Congress with the two northern portions being delineated by the grid lines and the remaining portions being the territory north of the Rio Grande border with Mexico but south of the grid line.

Another provision modified the population requirement to be a large enough population to have at least one representative if they were equally apportioned after the decennial census. If the territory did not wish to wait for the decennial federal census, they could use their own funds to reimburse the Federal Census Bureau for an early count by federal employees. It was felt necessary that the FCB do the counting to keep territories from being tempted to inflate their population numbers to gain earlier statehood.

With no further value politically in fighting the slavery issue because of the amendment, the New England states ceased fighting the idea of a Southern Pacific railroad on the grounds that it would make it possible for southern slavery advocates to spread their beliefs more easily to the Pacific Coast. Therefore in 1849 the Southern Pacific Act was passed granting the builders of the railroad moving from Houston, Texas, to the seasonal coastal village at Rocky Point on the north end of the Gulf of California. This would allow rail traffic to a sea port on the west coast giving the USA access to the many markets on the broad Pacific ocean in the shortest time possible. A preliminary report filed by the Army scouts during the Mexican-American War had already sketched out the Southern Pacific route. With Federal support via land grants through the New Mexico and Arizona territories and eastern money interests both from northern banks and southern planters, work on the Transcontinental Railroad/ Southern Pacific commenced on March 12, 1850.

The route for the Southern Pacific crosses 1,060 miles of rolling plains and desert, much of which is occupied by native first peoples who saw the railroad as a threat and resist as best they are able. Despite their efforts to halt work, the presence of US Cavalry allows the railroad crews to advance at a mile a day laying track through the route. The final spike of the initial railroad is driven on February 4, 1853, and supplies to build a first-class port at Rocky Point begin arriving immediately with most of the rail workers transitioning to general construction labor at the same wages as before. The string-of-pearls arrangement of cavalry-company-sized forts built at each watering stop of the railroad house the Army, and small towns spring up around them to supply the comforts every soldier seeks in their off duty time.

By the Fourth of July, 1853, ships are arriving at Rocky Point, where they load cotton or passengers before sailing to the West Coast or points around the Pacific to sell their cargo. Rocky Point is a classic boom town, and soon American cotton is found in as diverse a set of markets as Australia in the South Pacific all the way to Russian Vladivostok in the northwest Pacific. The American Navy is required to double in size to secure the Pacific interests of the USA. Northern California becomes a new state in 1854 with its capital San Francisco, ranging from 39 North to 34 North and 120 west to the Pacific Ocean. The preponderance of the gold strikes were in this area along with the most arable farmland and forests. Oregon from 39 north to 44 north also starting at 120 west and going to the Pacific also enters the Union that year, and Texas splits off its two southern sections into the states of Jefferson and Washington from the 29th parallel to the Rio Grande border with Mexico. Via this division, Texas remains the largest US state by a small margin , but the slave economy states gain four senators to counterbalance North California and Oregon in the federal Congress.

The entry of Kansas in 1861 is balanced by the entry of Arizona thanks to the population that grew up around the port city of Rocky Point. The 1860 election resulted in the reelection of James Buchanan, who was seen by most national politicians as a good man to keep the country running on an even balance after his performance in office the prior four years. The Cotton South boomed with its new access to world trade, but, with the exception of a few river valleys, the mostly desert area of Arizona (State), New Mexico (Territory), and the more northerly Nevada & Utah Territories aren't suitable for plantation agriculture. However, New Mexico soon leads the way in the use of slave labor in manufacturing. Ample coal deposits supply the fuel for steam powered looms turning abundant raw Southern cotton into fine textiles for export across the Pacific in competition with the New England looms, which concentrate their skills more on northern wool as their main source of fiber.

Plantation owners in Alabama came around to the idea that labor saving devices in growing cotton meant they could shift their now-surplus field hands into working in the textile industry. By 1865, mechanical planters and harvesters for cotton arrived on plantations, and many slaves find themselves shifted to working as industrial, rather than farm, labor. Instead of following the northern model of concentrating industry in cities where "free labor" is often desperate for employment and willing to work for low wages, the Cotton South has their industry scattered far and wide over the plantation system with railroads bringing down the cost of transporting the many small suppliers' goods to market and keeping them competitive with the city model followed in the North. By 1870, plantations across the South are shifting to value-added export for the simple reason of profit. They can earn double or triple the cash selling finished cloth instead of raw cotton.

Provine's Addendum

While many nations in the world had outlawed slavery by the middle of the nineteenth century, the United States carried on with more than four million unpaid laborers, a number that would grow in the coming decades. The debate on slavery grew not only along lines of race and political ideology but also economics. Assurances that technology would eventually outpace the need for slavery proved incorrect as factories and cropland revitalized by scientific farming methods swelled the plantation coffers in the South, even keeping pace with the great wealth of bankers and industrialists in the North. Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose novels of plantation life such as Uncle Tom's Cabin and Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, continued writing with descriptions of life in the work-camps alongside mills and textile factories as well as the poorer farmers whose efforts without slave labor could not keep up and often found their farms in foreclosure.

Efforts to placate the working class included the Homestead Act, promising free land to those enterprising enough to develop it in the territories. This proved effective not only in absorbing surplus populations to limit unemployment but bolstering the population of future states like Pike, Cascadia, and Nebraska. In other areas, however, the plan backfired. The 160 acres proved to be much too small for cost-effective ranching in more arid regions like Cimarron and West Dakota where typical agriculture was out of the question. Eventually much of the settlers gave up and sold out to cattle barons.

Workers rights movements swept through the country, looking not only to end slavery but to establish safe and beneficial working conditions. Suggestions of secession are moot as the Cotton South's economy would be cut in half unless the entire line of states along the Southern Pacific railway joined them in leaving the Union. Instead, the wealthy lobbied Congress to maintain the status quo and literally battled strikers across the nation, whether coal miners in Virginia, harvesters in Arkansas, those seeking an eight-hour workday in Chicago, or railroad workers nationwide. Labor organizers reached across racial and regional lines, establishing camaraderie and using newspapers to dispel myths designed to keep workers fighting each other rather than the wealthy. Cycles of boycotts and strikes with improvements in conditions and pay finally led to the ends of slavery, child labor, and company towns. By the end of the First World War, the United States was one of most progressive nations in the world, its Congress balanced between two parties: Republican Socialists and the conservative Democrats.

Friday, February 18, 2022

AD 499 - Hwui Shan Returns from Teotihuacan

Inspired by conversations with Rob Schmidt.

Forty years after leaving China, Hwui Shan returned with one of his comrades, two Buddhist monks of the five who had left to sail eastward to spread the wisdom of the Buddha. Buddhism had arrived in China from India centuries before, where it had sparred with Daoism on cosmology and concepts of immortality versus nirvana as well as Confucianism in personal conduct. Hwui Shan and his brethren had come from Kabul, arriving in China in 450. Eight years later, he led the Gandharan monks to sail eastward to continue to spread the word.

Following the ocean currents, the monks passed through cold lands where the people herded deer and made cheese from their milk. They crossed the bays of great rivers, which showed evidence of great deposits of copper and gold, though little iron. Some 20,000 li east of where they had set out, the monks caught word of a great city on the other side of the desert regions. After another long leg of their journey, they came to Teotihuacan. There the monks marveled at a city of some 125,000, rivaling even the great cities of China.

For years, the monks worked among the people. They conferred with priests, examined obsidian blades, and tasted delicacies such as chocolate and tobacco. When time came for the commemoration of a new temple in Teotihuacan, the priests prepared for the ritual human sacrifice that would bring attention and blessings from the gods, especially the Feathered Serpent, whose nature showed both heaven with its feathers and earth in its scales, and the Great Goddess, who ruled the darkness of night and beneath the earth, such as the springs from where life-giving water flowed.

Before the forced sacrifice of captives from battle, one of the Buddhist monks stepped forward to volunteer. The monk explained his abhorrence of pain as well as his own work to overcome attachment to the material realm. Now the priests marveled, reminded of the gods who sacrificed themselves to become the several Suns that had existed through the history of creation. Great honors were bestowed upon him, and soon the monks established a temple training their own sect. After teaching for decades, Hwui Shan decided to return to China to tell of this new world. Two monks stayed behind to manage the temple, and one monk and several acolytes went with him. They retraced their steps back across the northern Pacific.

China was in a time of struggle, divided between the Wei dynasty in the north and the Southern Qi. With turmoil at home, many Chinese were eager to hear of a new land with potential for valuable trade in Fusang spices and silver for Chinese iron. Numerous merchants established small joint-stock companies to send ships with manufactures, such as silk, and tools. Livestock was considered one of the best options since, upon arrival with a handful of horses and oxen, they could stay and raise up a whole herd to sell. A trade route developed across the north, which later became a circular route following ocean currents with a valuable port on mid-ocean volcanic islands. Hawaii, as the Polynesians called it upon their arrival, became an important gateway not just between the east and west but also to the South Pacific.

Through the 500s, China reunified under the Sui dynasty. Trading posts became colonies as mining operations grew to exploit the untapped mineral wealth of northern Fusang, and the Chinese merchant and military navies became unrivaled in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Chinese engineers introduced wheeled vehicles, metallurgy, and ship-building to Fusang, who returned with agricultural methods that boosted Chinese food production. If not for the exchanged, civilizations may have crumbled during the bitter volcanic winter of 536. Instead, both China and the Fusang kingdoms grew to great heights during the next 1,000 years.

In Fusang, Teotihuacan expanded into a powerful empire across the fertile range south of the Gulf of Mexico. Trade routes went by sea south to the Huari of Andes and northward to the Mississippians. Chinese technology flowed along with goods, introducing gunpowder, paper, and the chain pump, which allowed water to be drawn nearly continuously from wells. Fusang ships soon became common throughout the Pacific and across the western shores of the Atlantic. A trade link was set up to Europe through the north by Norse and Fusang sailors, but decreasing global temperatures dropped interest in traveling there.

China expanded its power greatly through the centuries. By the time the Sui Dynasty gave way to the Tang, China was seen as the “grandfather of the world.” Arid farming techniques were introduced to the herders of the steppes, pacifying the region while laying the groundwork that would later be the industrial base for the Mongol state. During the long wars between the Sasanian Empire and the Byzantines in the early seventh century, China stepped in to mediate. New boundaries were set, and China established ports in eastern Egypt and Sinai as fortifications to their influence. This Chinese influence in the Mediterranean expanded with the rebuilding of the historic Canal of the Pharaohs linking the Nile with the Red Sea. Centuries later, Europe was badly devastated in the Black Death, leading to colonization and resettlement by Africans and natives from Fusang.

China’s empire that stretched from eastern Africa to the Andes eventually broke into smaller kingdoms. Still, a permanent diplomatic conference of “united nations” maintains peace from Hawaii. Much of the international understanding is supported by the underlying force of Buddhism, the world religion by far. Many regions have local religious majorities such as Islam in Arabia, Christianity in pockets of Europe, Hinduism in India, and Zoroastrianism in Persia but do feel the Buddhist influence. Even Buddhism itself differs greatly from the compassion-oriented Ubuntu Buddhism of Africa to the cosmic Buddhism in Australia to the self-sacrificial Buddhism still practiced in some regions of Fusang.



In reality, there is a great deal of controversy about the land described as Fusang. While some historians in centuries past took it to mean the Americas, others argue that it was likely Kamchatka or the Kuril Islands based on the descriptions of the native people herding deer. The estimate of 20,000 li straight east from China would put Fusang near today’s Mexico, but others, including eighteenth-century cartographer Philippe Cuache, took it to be curved distance traveled, placing Fusang somewhere near the Columbia River system. Wherever the monks did visit and return from, they did not greatly work to affect the locals outside of teaching religious ideals and brought primarily only stories back to China.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Guest Post: February 1, 1861 - Mexico-Comanche-Texas War Breaks Out

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

For over a decade Sam Houston had dreamt of a Mexican invasion serving as a common cause to unite the quarrelling States. Instead of becoming once again the hero of the hour, the aging governor had forgotten to price in the cost of a simultaneous uprising from the Comanche. Soon to be forced out of office because of his vocal opposition to secession, he was staring into the abyss, the destruction of everything he fought for in the name of Texas.

Many of his fellow citizens were agitated by the murmurs of secession clamoring across the South. Events then headed in an unexpected direction when president-elect Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in December 1860 and a negotiated version of the Crittenden Compromise passed mapping the way for eventual, if delayed, manumission. Following these unexpected turns, the flames of secession seemed to die down, only Texas and the Cotton South pursued independence.

Unlike the Cotton states who had joined the Union shortly after the American Revolution, Texas had a viable legal mechanism for secession, achieved simply by revoking the annexation treaty of 1844. Using this means, the state legislature narrowly passed the act of secession. This action was taken over Houston's veto and half-shouted stark warning, "After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Texan independence if God be not against you, but I doubt it."

After less than two decades in the Union, the Lone Star State seceded. A special convention then illegally and ultra vires remained in session and acted like a government with former Lieutenant Governor Edward Clark as Acting President. Contrary to Houston's predictions, US President Hannibal Hamlin did not order armed intervention , but he did recall Union forces from federal outposts. Despite being a radical Republican from the anti-slavery state of Maine, he had been propelled into the presidency and seemed to believe like Houston that Americans should avoid "rash actions." Consequently, this de facto continuation of President Buchanan's inaction was simply a necessary sacrifice to avoid provoking Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana into siding with the secessionists a broader War of the States. Or, so it seemed in Austin.

In fact, Hamlin also saw Mexican invasion as an opportunity: sacrificing Texas to distract secessionists throughout the Cotton South. His gambit was that the Texan borderlands had been secured by Union troops, and, when they were withdrawn, the Mexicans and Comanche would seize this moment of vulnerability with both hands. Hamlin had cleverly anticipated this move, but Houston had gambled wrong, being over-confident of winning a second war. What had changed the equation from his military calculations was the better-armed Comanche and operators like Juan Cortina in the Rio Grande Valley. Worse still, the Mexican Army was largely still mobilized as a result of the ruling Liberal party recently winning the three-year Reform War.

Subsequent events surprised both Houston and Hamlin. Miraculously for the politicians in Austin, willing volunteers arrived from the Cotton states under the command of P.G.T. Beauregard, and the reborn Texan Republic narrowly survived intact when Mexican forces retreated. Arguably, Texas had been saved not so much by Beauregard's volunteers than by other predators in the arrival of the European Great Powers off the coast of Veracruz. Now it was Mexico's turn to fight for her sovereignty.

Meanwhile, Texas became the first formerly American territory to make slavery illegal. This was due to advances by the Industrial Revolution, growing labor movements, and international pressure. With so many slaves escaping to Mexico, Texas had little choice in declaring slavery illegal - but kudos to the Lone Star Republic anyway. Their historic announcement in Galveston is marked across America every year on Juneteenth National Independence Day.

Jeff Provine's Note:

In reality, Houston was largely neutral, claiming that if Texas were to secede, it should at most revert to its independent status as a republic.

Author's Note:

Lincoln avoided assassination, and the Crittenden Compromise failed. Hamlin was removed from the ticket for re-election in 1864, being replaced by Andrew Johnson.

Provine's Addendum:

The uneasy peace between the six-state Confederacy and the United States finally broke after years of agitation. The issue of federal forts had nearly sparked the war as early as 1861, but negotiations over what to do with the property stalled conflict. Instead, it was squabbles inland, primarily at the Tennessee and North Carolina borders over personal property into 1863. A Union army under Virginian Robert E. Lee marched on Atlanta to "split the South" while naval action at New Orleans and met Union western forces under General Ulysses S. Grant up the Mississippi. Split into three, the Confederacy collapsed, but the war dragged on with bitter guerilla warfare. Hamlin's plan to punish instigators of the war included dividing up plantation property, requiring loyalty oaths for U.S. citizenship, and an Emancipation Proclamation throughout the states in rebellion. It was only the division of the Democratic party between the Copperheads calling for peace and the War Democrats that allowed Hamlin's Republicans to win reelection in 1864.

The Southern population landscape changed significantly over the 1860s with "white flight" as many wealthy people fled to Texas, Cuba, or South Africa. Resettlement of repeat offenders on the harsh Reconstruction laws also moved many thousands from the South to the Nebraska Territory. Meanwhile, Freedmen enjoyed not only liberation but also land grants and public education. Abolitionists pushed for similar freedom in the North, prompting faster action on the manumission outlined in earlier compromise, including federal payments to slave owners for the liberation of their "property."

War-weariness settled in, ironically electing Robert E. Lee to the presidency in 1868 with a platform to heal the nation. Lee died in 1870, leaving the office to Schuyler Colfax, who encouraged development westward and in the devastated South, especially railroad and telegraph expansions, industries where he owned a great deal of stock. Through the nineteenth century, social commentators such as Mark Twain described the closeness between government and booming business as a "military-industrial complex."

The question of what to make of the Republic of Texas crossed many Americans' minds as the war settled. Ultimately, the Texans and Americans both decided perhaps statehood was a mistake. Texas continued as an ongoing independent republic of Texas, though usually closely allied with the U.S. Trade agreements such as passage of cattle herds up trails through Indian Territory (later, Sequoyah) proved popular to all parties.

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