Smaller, Undeclared Wars
Americans have gone to war to win their independence, expand their national boundaries, define their freedoms, and defend their interests around the globe. Smaller, undeclared wars have always played a key role in American affairs. There are heroes and exploits from the forgotten side of America's military history. A captured American warship was destroyed under the Pasha of Tripoli's nose, and Army Lieutenant George S. Patton shot it out, ivory-handled pistol in hand, with Mexican banditos at an isolated hacienda in 1916.
The Whiskey Rebellion was the single largest armed confrontation among American citizens between the Revolution and the Civil War. In 1790, the new national government of the United States was attempting to establish itself. Because the government had assumed the debts incurred by the colonies during the Revolution the government was deep in debt. During the 1791 winter session of Congress both houses approved a bill that put an excise tax on all distilled spirits. United States Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, proposed the bill to help prevent the national debt from growing. Loud protests from all districts of the new nation soon followed. These protests were loudest in the western counties of Pennsylvania.
Acceptance of the excise tax varied with the scale of the production; large producers, who produced alcohol as a business venture, were more willing to accept the new tax. They could make an annual tax payment of six cents per gallon. A smaller producer, who only made whiskey occasionally, had to make payments throughout the year at a rate of about nine cents per gallon. Large producers could reduce the cost of the excise tax if they produced even larger quantities. Thus, the new tax gave the large producers a competitive advantage over small producers.
The smaller producers, who were generally in the western counties, had a very different perspective of the tax. To them the tax was abhorrent. The frontier farmers detested the excise because it was only payable in cash, something rare on the western frontier. Due to the great effort required to transport any product over the mountains back to the markets of the East, farmers felt it made much more sense to transport the distilled spirits of their grain rather than the raw grain itself.
The Whiskey Rebellion took place throughout the western frontier. There was not one state south of New York whose western counties did not protest the new excise with some sort of violence. Probably the biggest concern about the excise tax was the revenues from it would support a national government the western people felt was not representing them well. Their grievances involved resolving the Indian problems and opening the Mississippi River to navigation. "They were 'convinced that a tax upon liquors which are the common drink of a nation operates in proportion to the number and not to the wealth of the people, and of course is unjust in itself, and oppressive upon the poor.'" Without solving these problems the national government could expect no compliance to he excise law.
People in the West resisted the excise tax with different attitudes. Most simply refused to pay the tax while others rebelled with violence. Excise officers received most of the fury from the rebels. Each officer was to open an office in his county of operation. The easiest form of nonpayment was to prevent the excise officer from establishing an office in the county. To do this, rebels threatened anyone who offered to house the excise office. More often than not, the excise officer received threats to his well being. These threats were usually enough to discourage the officer from staying and trying to collect the tax. When an officer was brave enough to stay, the residents who opposed the tax committed such humiliations as tarring, feathering, and torturing the offender. This usually convinced the excise officer to leave the area.
The residents of western Pennsylvania played a major role in the "Whiskey Rebellion." It was the violent reaction of the people in this area that compelled President George Washington to call 12,950 militia men to suppress the rebellion in 1794. The residents of western Pennsylvania not only threatened the excise tax collectors, they proceeded to carry out their threats. An angry mob marched on collector John Neville's house in Washington County, had a shoot out with him and his slaves, and eventually burned his home. Fortunately, Neville narrowly escaped the grasp of the crowd. Not only did this mob attack the tax collector but they also stole the mail from a post rider leaving Pittsburgh. The logic behind this action was to discover who in the local area opposed the rebels. This was a federal offense for which the rebels could be prosecuted. Their actions of civil disobedience should not be considered as totally without justification.
Since the people of western Pennsylvania felt they were not being well represented by Congress they decided to choose their own assembly. Each county was to choose between three and five representatives. These people were to bring the demands of their county to the assembly. Many of the representatives had ill feelings toward the national government. These people tried to push the residents of western Pennsylvania toward open insurrection. Men such as Hugh Henry Brackenridge and Albert Gallatin were the moderating force at these meetings and prevented the radicals from dominating the proceedings. Albert Gallatin's role was as a representative of the residents of Fayette County. As such he had to transmit the sentiment of the meetings even though he may have disagreed. Gallatin served as secretary and also delivered speeches that helped to pacify those radicals who were at the meetings. Often Gallatin delivered these speeches while radicals were in the crowd with their weapons in hand. Gallatin spoke about the mistake of open rebellion toward the government.
Unfortunately for Gallatin, the government officials did not differentiate between the moderates and the radicals who took part in these meetings. Participation brought guilt as far as those in the government were concerned. In 1794 the militia called by Washington marched to dispel the rebels in western Pennsylvania. They also brought a list of names of participants that certain members of the Presidential staff wanted arrested. This list included Brackenridge and Gallatin. Twenty rebels were arrested. Fortunately, Albert Gallatin was not among them. Of the twenty rebels arrested, none were found guilty. The fact that he was included on the list of rebels caused Albert Gallatin in later reflections to call his participation in the Whiskey Rebellion his "only political sin."
The rebellion ended and whiskey was taxed. It was the first test of President Washington's authority to use the national militia to suppress insurrection internally. In actuality, little fighting resulted and the rebellion melted away in the face of Maj. Gen. Henry Lee's forces.
The Aroostook War (Northeastern Boundary Dispute) was a bloodless conflict over the disputed boundary between the U.S. state of Maine and the British Canadian province of New Brunswick. The peace treaty of 1783 ending the American Revolution had left unclear the location of a supposed Ã¢-‚¬Å"highlands,Ã¢-‚¬- or watershed, dividing the two areas. Negotiators from Britain and the United States in subsequent years failed to come to an agreement, and the matter was referred to the king of The Netherlands, who in 1831 rendered a decision that the citizens of Maine objected to strenuously, forcing the U.S. Senate to reject it.
Meanwhile, settlers from New England and lumbermen from Canada were moving into the disputed Aroostook area, and in 1838Ã¢-‚¬"39 the conflict warmed up, with officials and bands of men from both sides making arrests and taking prisoners of Ã¢-‚¬Å"trespassers.Ã¢-‚¬- In March 1839 British troops from Quebec reached Madawaska, the American sector of Aroostook; and the Maine legislature immediately voted $800,000, calling for 10,000 volunteer militiamen, who, within a week, were dispatched to Aroostook. The U.S. Congress voted for 50,000 men and $10,000,000; and General Winfield Scott was ordered to Augusta, Maine, by President Martin Van Buren to keep the peace. On March 21, 1839, he and the British negotiator, Sir John Harvey, arranged a truce and a joint occupancy of the territory in dispute until a satisfactory settlement could be reached.
Daniel Webster and Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton, reached a compromise the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of Washington in 1842, which settled the Maine-Canada boundary and the boundary between Canada and New Hampshire, Michigan and Minnesota. This treaty awarded 7,015 square miles to the United States and 5,012 square miles to Great Britain. The British retained the northern area of the disputed territory, including the Halifax Road with its year-round overland military communications between Quebec and Nova Scotia. The U.S. federal government agreed to pay the states of Maine and Massachusetts $150,000 each for the loss of the lands of their states while the United States reimbursed them for newly acquired territory in the Northwest Territories and for expenses incurred during the time Maine's armed civil posse administered the truce period.
Webster used a map that Jared Sparks, an American citizen, found in the Paris Archives (and which Benjamin Franklin supposedly marked with a red line in Paris in 1782) to persuade Maine and Massachusetts to accept the agreement. The map showed that the disputed region belonged to the British and so helped convince the representatives of those states to accept the compromise, lest the truth reach British ears and convince the British to refuse. Later historians discovered that the Americans hid their knowledge of the Franklin map. Britain apparently used a map supposedly favorable to the United States claims but never revealed this map. Some claim that Britain created the Franklin map as a fake to pressure the American negotiators. The evidence is that the British map placed the entire disputed area on the American side of the border.
The Aroostook War, though devoid of actual military combat, did not lack casualties. Private Hiram T. Smith from Maine died of unknown causes while in service in 1828. He is buried in Maine on the side of the Military Road in the middle of the Haynesville Woods. Other Maine militiamen died of illness or injury while on the Aroostook expedition and dozens went unaccounted, leaving their camps to go on patrol and never returning.
The Mormon Expedition (The Utah War) was a good war. ‘Killed, none; wounded, none; fooled, everybody,’ reported a correspondent of the New York Herald. The incident of 1857-58 known as the Utah Expedition, the Utah War or Buchanan’s Blunder was a collision of territorial self-determination against a federal government already faced with insubordination in Kansas and its Southern states. When President James Buchanan decided to flex federal muscle against Utah Territory and ‘the Mormon problem,’ he ignited a full rebellion that, before it was all over, embarrassed the military arm of the young republic and confounded the president.
Instructions from General-in-Chief Winfield Scott to General William S. Harney on June 29, 1857, stated that the troops under Harney’s command were to be a posse comitatus, and that ‘in no case will you, your officers or men, attack any body of citizens whatever, except on such requisition or summons, or in sheer self-defense.’
On August 1, 1857, Utah mustered its territorial militia, called the Nauvoo Legion after its Illinois antecedent. Drilling commenced throughout the territory. The government sought to gather guns and ammunition, and manufactured Colt revolvers. Grain and other food supplies were cached. Settlers were recalled from distant homesteads such as San Bernardino, Calif., and the Carson Valley (then part of Utah Territory but later part of Nevada), while traveling associates were sent for from the Eastern states and Europe. Councils were held with the native tribesmen with the aim of keeping them friendly, or at least neutral.
Utah’s first line of defense, however, were several hundred mounted men known as’scouts,’ ‘rangers,’ or ‘bandits’ and’scoundrels,’ depending on your point of view. This unorthodox cavalry was sent eastward on the high mountain plains that are now southwestern Wyoming with orders to stampede the animals, burn the grass, stage nightly surprises to keep the soldiers from sleeping, block the road with fallen trees and destroy the fords; in other words, ‘to annoy [the army] in every possible way.’
There were practical reasons for the Mormons to want to avoid a shooting war. They hoped to garner sympathy from the public and Eastern newspapers, which could be a factor in any negotiations. But it was also a question of resources. Only about two-thirds of the Nauvoo Legion troops were even armed, and many of those were armed inadequately. In January 1858, Adjutant General James Ferguson reported to Brigham Young that the legion had 6,100 troops, with potentially 1,000 more older men available. Yet, their inventory of weapons included only 2,364 rifles, 1,159 muskets, 99 pistols, and 295 revolvers. Upon receiving his orders, Charles Griffin reported that he saddled his horse and ‘took my gun and my blankets, that being all the arms I then had.’
Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston finally arrived in the army camp near Harris Fork on November 3, boosting morale considerably. Following a few days’ assessment, his troops headed southwest, hoping to push to Salt Lake City, but Mother Nature took over where the Mormons left off, and winter began laying down blankets of snow upon the high mountain plains. It took the 15-mile-long army column 15 days to travel just 35 miles through the snow. Hundreds of oxen and mules died along the trail. ‘It is quite Russian,’ Gove remarked, referring to Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. Many soldiers were left pulling their own wagons due to the loss of their stock through weather and theft.
Only days before spring thaw and resupply would permit Johnston’s Army to move west, Buchanan’s ‘Peace Commission’ arrived in the territory bearing a pardon for the Mormon people. Brigham Young’s acceptance on June 12, 1858, on behalf of his people was positive if not gracious: ‘I have no character to protect, no pride to gratify, no vanity to please. If a man comes from the moon and says he will pardon me for kicking him in the moon yesterday, I don’t care about it. I’ll accept of his pardon. It don’t affect me one way or the other.’
Peace returned to Utah Territory, to the disappointment of the now brevetted General Johnston and his officers. As a precaution, Young moved his people to the south and posted guards to burn the city should their agreement be violated. Johnston’s Army, however, marched professionally through an eerily empty Salt Lake City and built Camp Floyd 40 miles to the southwest, in present-day Cedar Valley. Utah’s citizens returned to their homes, and life resumed mostly as it had before, although tension and controversy would stalk the territory for some years to come.
It is uncertain what might have happened had the conflict escalated. What is clear, though, is that victory is not always achieved through battle. It was the largest military operation in the United States between the times of the Mexican War and the Civil War.
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