Monday, November 21, 2022

Guest Post: Alligator for Thanksgiving

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Allen W. McDonnell.

Given that the Conflict of 1812 was considered the second war of independence, it was entirely logical that General Andrew Jackson's glorious victory at New Orleans should be marked as a National Celebration Day paired with the Fourth of July in the American calendar.

Following the abdication of Napoleon, British Prime Minister Lord Liverpool wanted the Duke of Wellington to go to command in Canada with the assignment of winning the war. But the truth was that the Royal Navy no longer needed to stop American shipments to France or more sailors; all parties were exhausted and willing to negotiate peace.

Before New Orleans, some hawkish British elements wanted to occupy the Louisiana Purchase, and it was for this reason that Major General Sir Edward Pakenham launched his ill-fated attack. The calamitous British defeat at New Orleans arrived in only thirty minutes of the poorly executed assault. Like Yorktown before, the defeat did not have to mean the end of the war, but it did require a complete reset and on both occasions, the national will to continue was not there. This result dissuaded Lord Liverpool et. al from ripping up the Treaty of Ghent that had been signed but needed to be ratified by both governments.

Following the victory, Jackson was treated to fried alligator, a local dish, and to his surprise discovered that he really liked it. From then on, he made sure his cook prepared him alligator for celebratory meals. Jackson was celebrated as an iconic hero and was elected president on his second attempt in 1828. But tragically, he was assassinated by Robert B. Randolph in the first year of his second term of office. Given the causes of the War of 1812, there was a grim irony that Jackson had ordered Randolph's dismissal from the navy for embezzlement.

Out of this tragedy, his successor Martin van Buren would mark November 9th as a day of national celebration, moving Thanksgiving forward several weeks and making alligator the Thanksgiving dish. Jackson would also be included in the presidential faces on Mount Rushmore, but arguably, the Seminole and Cherokee had the most to celebrate. They won a famous legal victory at the Supreme Court level to avoid being moved which Jackson would have likely ignored in violation of his oath of office.

Author's Note:

In reality, we have adjusted the timings to re-emphasize the significance of the American victory with an earlier Battle of New Orleans. Randolph only hit Jackson with his hand, making him the first president to be subjected to physical assault. There would later be an attempt on Jackson's life in 1835.

Provine's Addendum:

President Van Buren was a masterful builder of national myth, continuing the legend of Andrew Jackson into his reelection in 1832 and again in 1836, becoming the first president to serve longer than the eight-year norm established by George Washington. He did not follow through on all of Jackson's ideas, such as his unwillingness to enforce the Indian Removal Acts in the face of the Supreme Court decision opposing US Federal jurisdiction over tribes in 1832 in fear of losing ground to Whig Henry Clay. Van Buren was blamed for later struggles with encroachment, especially as agriculture pushed into Seminole lands in Florida for quick cash on harvesting alligators. Later legal appeals would strengthen tribal authority against encroachment while maintaining federal authority. The question of supremacy in states' rights and federal rule would ultimately be decided in a civil war with a Union victory that maintained tribal rights. This would have long-lasting legal implications, such as the successful defense by the Great Sioux Reservation to defend the Black Hills from incursion by gold prospectors.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Guest Post: War of 1809

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Allen W. McDonnell, Robbie Taylor, and Jeff Provine.

October 31, 1809: Atlantic Slave Trade leads to War

New Prime Minister Spencer Perceval offered the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer to twenty-five-year-old Viscount Palmerston, but the latter declined in favor of the office of Secretary at War, charged exclusively with the financial business of the army.

Palmerston knew that at this defining moment, the nation was on the road to conflict in North America. Because he was pro-abolition, the timing of this appointment was particularly auspicious because the U.S. Congress had recently failed to pass an Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves. The British Empire had just banned slavery and decided to enforce this abolitionist policy upon the United States, sabre-rattling against the prevailing Jeffersonian party's pro-French leanings. With a vastly superior naval force, Great Britain had the opportunity to bully her former colonies while she imported cotton from Egypt. The Americans had developed a very profitable industry based upon the institution of slavery, a matter that had been questioned as early as the Declaration of Independence. This clash of interests brought the two countries to war during the final months of Thomas Jefferson's second term as US President. As a Virginian plantation owner that had gained wealth from indentured servants and chattel slaves, he personally had wanted the same compensated emancipation that the UK had instituted, but the cotton gin had made slavery very profitable after its introduction in 1794.

So, into these circumstances were sown the seeds of a second conflict between the nascent United States and Great Britain, engineered by two men whose personal views on slavery were not so very different. But, if not the Atlantic Slave Trade, then most likely some other related commercial issue would likely have been the cause of war. Although the United States Navy lacked the strength to triumph in the Atlantic, war hawks thought perhaps her militia had a better chance of invading Canada, and so these were the plans that were hatched in Washington. Proverbs 11:29 tell us that "Whoever troubles his household will inherit the wind" and surely this terrible conflict would bring widespread destruction, involving First Nations and slave uprisings as all parties threatened to tear up the fabric of the nascent United States. Instead, Jefferson became the first three-term President to be re-elected because of war fever when the Royal Navy started seizing slave ships off the coast of Africa.

Though the USA gained Upper Canada, the loss of the Louisiana Purchase until the War of 1848 returned it to American control had a profound impact on slavery in the United States. The famous 1838 case of Manuel vs North Carolina was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court where the justices ruled that free persons of color born in the USA and its territories were citizens under the US Constitution [1]. Slaves imported to the USA were not, but, after the War of 1809, very few slaves were successfully brought into the USA. By 1838, the vast majority of freed people were born in and thus now citizens of the USA.

Author's Note:

In reality, the U.S. Constitution permitted the Federal Government to ban importation of slaves by law starting in 1808 but did not require such a ban; separate legislation had to be passed to enact the ban. Abolitionists in the USA OTL passed said ban as effective in 1808, the first year Congress was permitted to do so. In this alternate timeline, the ban failed to pass.

[1] The court case extending freed persons citizenship preempts the Dred Scott decision of OTL that declared no African descended person could be a U.S. citizen. By making it established law a couple decades earlier, it makes removing citizenship a much tougher precedent to break.

Site Meter